On the morning of November 29th, Emily Fredricks was killed on a bicycle when the driver of trash truck failed to yield as he was turning right. Just three weeks later, Becca Refford was suffered serious injuries when a right turning box truck failed to yield.
Much of the attention has been the lack of protection of the buffered bike lanes and intersections. But another critical issue is the body design of the large trucks with whom bicyclists share the streets. A person’s body can fall under the truck, and into the path of the truck’s rear wheels, with catastrophic consequences.
In New York City, large trucks only make up 3.6 percent of vehicles in New York City, but they are responsible for 32 percent of bicyclist fatalities and 12% of pedestrian fatalities. Fortunately, there is a relatively inexpensive solution saves lives of people on bike or on foot.
Side guards, rails or panels cover the space beneath the undercarriage. These guards, supplemented with convex mirrors to reduce blind spots, have been shown to greatly reduce bicycle and pedestrian deaths. In the United Kingdom, after these requirements were added, bicyclist deaths by collisions with trucks dropped 61 percent while pedestrian deaths were reduced by 20 percent.
This infographic from this 2015 USDOT/Volpe Center Side Guard Report shows the hazard of large trucks:
In the US ordinances for side guards have been brought forward after a tragic death (Map).
In Boston, it was the death of newlywed Owen McGrory where the trash truck driver said he thought he hit a pothole. Chicago’s ordinance was prompted by four cyclists deaths in 2016 and 2017.
Truck side guard technical overview : safety and operational considerations by bcgp on Scribd
The implementation of side guards is in Philadelphia’s Vision Zero Action Plan and, hopefully, public pressure will help create the introduction of legislation to require for City fleet and contractor vehicles. However, there are plenty of privately owned delivery and construction vehicles coming into the City every day which would be exempt.
The European Union, Brazil, China and Japan all require side guards on large trucks.
Only when action is taken at the state and national level will we see a measurable decrease in bicyclist and pedestrian deaths.
Side guards are a simple, easy to install, last resort technology that saves lives. It could have made a difference. Europe has mandated side guards for over 30 years. North America is far behind.