Will the Feds Step Up for Ped Safety and Close the Crossover Mirror Loophole?

Albany's law requiring crossover mirrors for large trucks on NYC surface streets doesn't apply to out-of-state trucks. Will the federal government make this safety feature a nationwide requirement? Image: DOT

In February, 7-year-old Amar Diarrassouba was killed while crossing the street in East Harlem. Truck driver Robert Carroll ran him over while turning from East 117th Street to First Avenue. Because Carroll was driving a truck registered out-of-state, the vehicle wasn’t covered by the state law requiring crossover mirrors for large trucks on New York City streets. Community Board 11 recently asked Representative Charles Rangel to introduce a bill that would mandate crossover mirrors nationwide, but federal action seems unlikely in the near future and the loophole allowing out-of-state trucks to skip the safety mirrors remains in place.

From 1994 to 2003, 204 New York City pedestrians were killed and 4,698 were injured in collisions involving large trucks. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [PDF], 71 percent of pedestrians killed by the drivers of large trucks nationwide were first struck at the front of the vehicle.

The mirrors, which cost about $100, are located on the front of a truck’s cab and significantly improve a driver’s visibility directly in front of the vehicle and on the passenger side. The mirrors especially help drivers see children, who are more likely to be within a driver’s blind spot when walking near a large truck.

In 2011, Albany passed a law requiring crossover mirrors for trucks weighing 26,000 pounds or more operating on NYC surface streets, but the rule only applies to vehicles registered in-state, exempting trucks like the one Carroll was driving when he killed Diarrassouba.

After sending its letter to Rangel in July, CB 11 got a response [PDF]. “Your suggestion is timely and significant and deserves great consideration,” Rangel wrote. “Having every driver of a truck, tractor, tractor-trailer and/or semi-trailer use a ‘crossover’ mirror is imperative.” But Rangel’s letter didn’t say whether he would introduce or support legislation making such a requirement law, leaving CB 11 leadership wanting more.

“It’s kind of lukewarm,” CB 11 transportation committee chair Peggy Morales said last night about Rangel’s letter. Streetsblog followed up with Rangel’s office, which said it would get back to us after his legislative director returns to the office next week.

Congress isn’t the only route. U.S. DOT could use its rulemaking authority to set a national standard on crossover mirrors. Streetsblog asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration if it had studied crossover mirrors or considered requiring them. FMCSA referred our questions to NHTSA, which said that it had not conducted research on crossover safety mirrors, though it was keeping an eye on the New York law and might conduct research in the future before beginning the rulemaking process.

Federal rules would not only close the New York loophole, but improve safety for pedestrians nationwide. Steve Gursten, an attorney serving as president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association, represented the estate of an 83-year-old man who was killed by a turning truck driver in Michigan. Gursten thinks crossover mirrors could have saved the man’s life, and urged the federal government to make them a requirement. ”It really is that easy,” he said. “They’re under a couple hundred dollars, and they save lives.”

“The promise of the [New York] law won’t be realized until the federal government follows suit,” Transportation Alternatives spokesperson Brian Zumhagen said in an e-mail, while adding that TA is not pushing for additional changes to the New York law and is not actively pushing for a federal rule.

In general, crossover mirrors are not, at the moment, an active issue for national organizations with a stake in street safety. The American Automobile Association, America Walks and the Alliance for Biking and Walking all said that they don’t have a ready position on crossover mirrors. “It’s not an issue that we’ve taken on before,” said Mary Lauran Hall of the Alliance for Biking and Walking. However, Caron Whitaker of the League of American Bicyclists said her organization “is supportive of a requirement on crossover mirrors to improve the ability of truck drivers to see, react to and avoid cyclists and pedestrians.”

In the meantime, drivers of out-of-state trucks are free to travel New York City’s crowded streets without crossover mirrors. “The problem is you have a really significant blind spot,” Gursten said, with pedestrians crossing in front of the truck and outside of the driver’s vision. “The truck driver absolutely cannot see them.”