Proposal to Prevent Pedestrian and Bicycle Accidents
In 2014, 17 bicyclists and pedestrians were killed after being hit by trucks in New York City, with total of at least 110 people killed throughout the country. Many more were seriously injured. Tragedies such as these could be greatly reduced by rethinking the design of large trucks operating on the streets of New York.
The most common cause of catastrophic injury and death to pedestrians in New York City is this: When a cyclist or pedestrian is hit by a big truck, he or she is pulled under the truck and then crashed by the back wheels. If pedestrians who were hit did not fall under the truck, but were rather pushed aside, they might be injured but would also be far less likely to be killed.
Solution to Deaths Resulting From Truck-Pedestrian Accidents
Streetsblog.com, a website devoted to improving safety on the streets of New York, has written that an important way to accomplish Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature Vision Zero plan — to eliminate pedestrian fatalities in the city — is to install guards under the sides of trucks. Side guards greatly reduce the chance that someone hit would then fall under the truck and be killed by the back wheels. This relatively minor change, which could make a huge difference in the lives of hundreds of New Yorkers, has not yet been implemented, although guards have been proven to be highly effective in reducing pedestrian and cyclist deaths in large urban areas where trucks have little room to maneuver.
New York City Takes Baby Steps Toward Improved Safety
In May 2014, New York City contracted with the Volpe Center at the US Department of Transportation to study the use of side guards on trucks in New York City. In June 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) officially recommended the use of side guards on trucks. However, the National Transportation Safety Administration (NTSA), which must act on the recommendations of the NTSB in order to turn the recommendations into regulations, failed to do so within the required 90 days. The agency now says that it may begin soliciting input on truck rule changes.
Despite the federal government’s failure to act, New York City has announced a pilot project that will outfit 240 city-owned trucks with side guards. The city has already installed other safety devices on more than half of the city’s 27,000 vehicle fleet. These include devices that record speed, location, and braking patterns. However, actual legislation appeared to be stalled after DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg articulated her concerns about the ability of the city to require changes if the state of New York and the federal government did not do so as well.
UK Leads the Way in Requiring Truck Side Guards
In the United Kingdom, truck guards have reduced pedestrian deaths by 20 percent and cyclist deaths by 61 percent in side-impact crashes since the use of side guards was first required in 1986. Side guards have been required in the European Union since 1989 and are standard equipment in Japan. In short, the US is late to this very important party.
Boston is the American Pioneer in Reducing Pedestrian and Cyclist Deaths
However, this may be changing. In early 2014, the city of Boston began a pilot project to evaluate the use of side guards on selected city-owned and city-contracted trucks. In October 2014, the City Council passed an ordinance to require all vehicles over 10,000 pounds operating under contracts with the city are required to have side guards, convex mirrors, cross-over mirrors and blind-spot awareness decals. For tractor-trailer trucks, these safety features are required on vehicles with a combined weight of 26,000 pounds.
Truck Safety is More Than Side Guards
The issue of side guards is not the only feature that could make a big difference in the safety of large vehicles in the city. The other is improving the ability of drivers to see pedestrians and cyclists. Lowering the cab and making much bigger windows will allow drivers to see more easily and reduce the blind spots that now are to blame for too many truck accident deaths and injuries. So far, no municipality requires these types of design changes, even though they are not particularly expensive.
After the first death of a cyclist in New York City this year, in January, City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriiguez stated that the effort to require truck side guards must be renewed. His call included contracted and city-operated sanitation trucks, which are responsible for too many pedestrian deaths in the city. Whether he will be successful is not yet known.