Large trucks designed for highways, with their huge wheels, sweeping turns, and enormous blind spots, are inherently dangerous on crowded city streets, and in the long run the freight system should be designed to eliminate them in populated areas. But in the meantime, improvements to vehicle design can reduce the risks to pedestrians and cyclists. Lives can be saved by installing a side rail or panel between a truck’s wheels that keeps pedestrians and cyclists, if they are struck, from being crushed as the vehicle keeps moving forward.
The de Blasio administration is expected to release a report soon about how this safety feature can be rolled out in New York, but inaction from Albany and Washington threatens to dwarf any city action by keeping large numbers of dangerous trucks legally operating on city streets.
Research from nations that do require side guards shows clear safety benefits. After the United Kingdom began requiring side guards on most new trucks in 1986, there was a 61 percent drop in cyclist fatalities and a 20 percent drop in pedestrian deaths in the types of crashes side guards are designed to mitigate. Researchers at Transport for London say strengthening the UK’s side guard requirements could save the lives of at least two additional pedestrians and cyclists each year in that city alone [PDF]. Side guards have been required on trucks across the European Union since 1989, and are also standard equipment in Japan. They have not yet been mandated in Australia or Canada, which abruptly halted its own study of side guards last year.
Here in the United States, the National Transportation Safety Board last year recommended installing side guards on large trucks, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which regulates truck design, hasn’t yet passed a rule requiring them. NHTSA says it could propose new trailer guard rules, though not necessarily for side guards, by the middle of next year.
In the absence of a federal rule, cities can take immediate steps by installing side guards on municipally-owned trucks. Boston has taken the lead among American cities and New York might soon follow.