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How Jayne Mansfield's death changed trucks' design

If you have ever noticed the steel bar beneath the back of a semitruck's cargo area, you may have wondered of its purpose. There is a very interesting, albeit tragic, story behind what has become known as the "Mansfield bar,'' which was designed to prevent passenger vehicles from rolling underneath the trailers of semitrucks.

The bars are also referred to as "under-ride bars" or DOT bars (for the Department of Transportation). They were designed after the gruesome and tragic death of Hollywood blonde bombshell Jayne Mansfield.

Who was Jayne Mansfield?

Mansfield was a starlet who hit the Hollywood scene in the wake of movie star and pin-up "It" girl, Marilyn Monroe. She had an impressive physique and was considered to be quite a beauty. But for multiple reasons, not the least of which was her questionable choice in male suitors, she never reached the career heights of Monroe and some others of that era.

In fact, at the time of her untimely death, Mansfield's career was on a decidedly downward trajectory.

The death of Jayne Mansfield

In the mid-1960s, Mansfield was not winning major film roles out in Hollywood. She was divorcing her husband Mickey Hargitay, the father of three of her five children, and was dating her divorce lawyer.

The combination of marital woes, jealous suitors and a lack of Hollywood interest in her for starring roles led her to rely heavily on alcohol to get her through her distress. She also resorted to accepting work at venues that were not considered to be top-tier for someone of her former stature as a Hollywood icon.

Mansfield's date with destiny

Mansfield had appeared at a supper club on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in Biloxi. She had a scheduled interview the following morning with a New Orleans TV station.

Accordingly, on June 29, 1967, she and her lawyer/boyfriend, her pet chihuahua and her three children set out for the Crescent City with a hired driver at the wheel. The group was traveling on Highway 90 and got behind a semitruck.

The tragic accident

As they approached the city limits of Slidell, Louisiana, directly ahead of the semitruck was a local mosquito truck spraying the ditches along the narrow road with a repellent. The spray created a heavy fog cloud that reduced the visibility considerably on the rural highway.

Unable to see that the semitruck had slowed down ahead of them, the driver of Mansfield's car plowed into its rear. The impact of the accident peeled off the top of the passenger vehicle as if it were a can of sardines. It killed all three front-seat passengers on impact.

At the time, there were rumors that Mansfield had been decapitated in the wreck, although that was not the case. However, the adults' injuries were unsurvivable. The chihuahua was also killed in the carnage.

Fortunately, Mansfield's three children riding in back survived the triple-fatality crash. Her daughter, Mariska Hargitay, who was three at the time, would go on to play Detective Olivia Benson on the hit TV show Law & Order: SVU.

Repercussions of the wreck

After the horrific collision, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) put in place a mandatory regulation that all semitruck trailers be fitted with under-ride bars. Because of the connection to the movie starlet, they were nicknamed "Mansfield bars."

There is no way to calculate the many lives that were subsequently saved because of this safety addition, but they certainly reduced many highway deaths.

Semitruck crashes can be some of the worst that drivers will ever encounter. Those who suffer injuries may want to seek compensation from the negligent drivers who caused the collisions.

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