Trucks are 4% of road users, but account for 11% of bicycle fatalities nationally, and even higher percentages in cities – for example, in NYC, trucks accounted for 32% of bicycle fatalities. In the Boston area, there have been a shocking number of preventable fatalities in the last few years as a result of truck/bicyclist crashes. The best safety changes would prevent these collisions altogether, primarily by eliminating dangerous trucking practices, such as inadequate safety training and supervision of truck drivers, drowsy driving, driving while distracted and lack of respect for right of way in marked bicycle lanes. Other recommended and important safety changes include additional mirrors on trucks, on-board cameras with views of blind spots, and active alarms/alerts.
Although crash prevention is the best goal, crash mitigation is an important part of any back-up safety plan. For almost 30 years, side guards on trucks have existed in other countries and have helped to significantly decrease fatalities which occur when there are truck/bicyclist crashes. Side guards are placed between the wheels of the tractor-trailer so that bicyclists or pedestrians cannot fall under the wheels of a truck. They are designed to withstand 440 pounds of force from the side, and have a maximum ground clearance of 13.8″ They are generally attached to the frame or the underbody of the truck, and perform a similar function to the rear underride guards mandated many years ago to prevent cars from going under tractor-trailers in rear-end collisions, except that side guards are designed to protect vulnerable road users, including bicyclists and pedestrians.
Safety data collected from other countries has been compelling. One recent study in the UK found that in trucks without side guards, truck/bicycle crashes resulted in bicyclist fatalities in 2 out of 3 collisions (66%). By contrast, trucks with side guards caused bicyclist fatalities in only 1 out of 4 collisions (25%). Countries throughout the world, including the U.K., all E.U countries, Brazil, Japan and China, require side guards on large commercial trucks. This means that half of the continents in the world have countries that require side guards to protect vulnerable road users, but North America is not one of them.
Dr. Alex Epstein, an engineer at the Department of Transportation (@VolpeUSDOT), is working with cities to promote the increased use of side guards on large trucks in urban areas. His work will save countless lives, and we are fortunate that he is based right here in Massachusetts . Mayor Marty Walsh (@marty_walsh) and the City of Boston became a leader in this area in 2014, when they consulted Dr. Epstein and subsequently enacted the nation’s first ordinance requiring side guards on all city-owned or city-contracted trucks. NYC Mayor DiBlasio (@NYCMayorsOffice) recently announced in 2015 that New York City will retrofit 240 city trucks with side guards. Several other cities are considering pilot programs or mandated side guards, including Somerville, MA (@SomervilleCity), Cambridge, MA (@CambMA), Portland, OR (@The_CityOfRoses ) and Washington, DC (@washingtondc).
The cost of side guards is manageable – probably about $1500 or so – in light of the cost of large commercial trucks and the risks of not having them. Moreover, the cost can decrease further if the design for side guards to protect vulnerable road users is merged with the design of “side skirts” (which are being voluntarily adopted by trucking companies to increase fuel efficiency). It’s time for urban areas across the country to protect their most vulnerable road users and follow the lead of the City of Boston, which is being supported by the important work of the U.S. Department of Transportation. You can read more about this at: http://www.volpe.dot.gov/our-work/truck-side-guards-resource-page