Jayne Mansfield, a blonde bombshell of the 60’s, is a name that has faded over time. Although she rivaled Marilyn Monroe in popularity during her hey-day, her beauty and notoriety have slowly been forgotten. Like her competitor Monroe, Mansfield perished at a tragically young age. And yet, Mansfield left many marks on society that still touch our lives today, including the innovation of the underride bar, commonly known in the United States as the Mansfield bar.
How the Jayne Mansfield bar came to be
On the evening of June 29, 1967, Jayne Mansfield, her attorney, her driver, and three of her young children (including actress Mariska Hargitay), were driving to New Orleans for a media engagement. In front of them was a rapidly slowing semitrailer which went unnoticed due to a thick fog of pesticide, and their car crashed into the underside of the trailer, killing the three adults in the front seat immediately upon impact. Luckily, all three children in the backseat escaped the accident with only minor injuries.
Regardless, the death of such a prominent and gossiped-about figure in American culture attracted immediate media attention, leading to falsely sensationalized reports that Mansfield had been decapitated. This gruesome accident ultimately spurred the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to require trailers to sport an underride bar. Underride bars, also known as DOT (Department of Transportation) bars or Mansfield bars, aim to keep cars from sliding underneath a semitrailer. Although calls for such a mandate were magnified after Mansfield’s death, it was not until 1998 that these rear guards were officially required.
Modern improvement of the Mansfield bar
Mansfield bars have remained the subject of controversy. As recently as 2017, complaints have been made that the underride bars did not truly protect cars from careening underneath trailers. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) found that Mansfield bars were not serving their intended purpose and gave publicity to the issue. In response, concerted efforts have been made by the trailer industry in recent years to improve the integrity of the bars. The IIHS has since found that strong underride bars are very effective in preventing injury and death in the event of an accident. In the future, the Institute may pursue similar efforts to promote the adoption of side underride guards.
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