Every Day Danger

Manditory Truck Guards Would Save Lives

Truck side guards rails and rear guards could save many lives in car accidents, bicycle, pedestrian, motorcycle, and pedestrian fatalities.

Large semi-trucks, dump trucks, and commercial vehicles present hidden dangers. Especially in city traffic to the most vulnerable of roadway users: pedestrians, bikes and motorcycles. But trucks are also a danger to all motor vehicles. Large trucks have large blind spots and the driver may not be able to see a pedestrian, motorcycle, car, or bike in common city traffic situations. The even more hidden danger is the lack of guard rails on the sides and rear of large trucks and tractor trailers.

There could be big safety improvements. Manditory truck-trailer side guards and rear guard would potentially help car occupants, cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians because it would be life saving.

Like large single-unit trucks, tractor-trailers may have blind spots that can reduce the ability of drivers to see other vehicles and road users. Researchers found that limited field of view can increase the risk of death or injury among passenger vehicle occupants, pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists when drivers of tractor-trailers change lanes, make turns, go straight, or back up.

Collisions with the sides of tractor-trailers resulted in about 500 deaths each year and that many of these deaths involved side underride. Researchers also found that current trailer rear underride guard standards are outdated. The recommendations call on NHTSA to require that both newly manufactured truck-tractors and trailers be equipped with side underride protection systems, and that revisions be made to improve trailer rear underride guard standards to better protect passenger vehicle occupants from fatalities and serious injuries [...] [1]

Portland car accident attorney discusses truck accident dangers and calls for manditory truck guard rails an example of one type of truck guard rail is pictured.

Pictured: truck side guard rail [thank you Lloyd Alter / CC BY 2.0]

That is 500 people die each year just from side collisions with large trucks.

New York City, Boston and Portland have installed on their own city fleets, improved side guards and rear guards, because these help save bicycle and pedestrian lives.

In New York City trucks are only 3.6 percent of vehicles on the road, but collisions with trucks account for 12.3 percent of pedestrian fatalities and 32 percent of bicyclist fatalities. [...]

In the United Kingdom, widespread adoption of side guards is credited with reducing fatalities and severe injuries in side impacts by 61 percent for bicyclists and 20 percent for pedestrians. [...] [3]

While a big step in the right direction, in NYC it is only 240 vehicles of the city's fleet to be fitted with side guards, private trucks are not required to have this safety feature, and that is over 27,000 of NYC municipal fleet and an identified 4734 trucks appropriate for side guards, but only 240 of the elgible city fleet getting the installation.

In Boston the ordinance madated all large city contracted vheicles to be equipped with enhanced safety measures to reduce the risks of a collision with pedestrians and cyclists.

Boston EMS responded to over 750 pedestrian traffic incidents in 2013. Since 2010, 11 cyclists in Boston have died as a result of crashes with motor vehicles, and seven of those fatal incidents occurred between a cyclist and either a truck or a bus. [...] Convex blind spot mirrors and cross-over mirrors, similar to those found on a school bus, will allow drivers of large trucks to see the areas in-front of, and to the sides better, preventing "right hook" incidents with cyclists. [4]

Essentially, trucks are incredibly dangerous on the road. Side Guards are a huge safety improvement, but the problem of blind spots and poor visibility is a major reality and problem that must be addressed if we are to take Vision Zero goals seriously, that is to end traffic deaths. Underride guards on both sides and rear seem to make obvious sense. While the cities stepping forward first is admirable, it's a small step in the right direction.

Technology may come through with some big new things like proximity detection systems with audible warnings for the truck driver as well as those sharing the road. Cameras into blind spots to help the truck driver see behind, and through the blind spots. One idea is that when the truck driver turns on a turn signal, the proximity detection system automatically gives warning if the lane or area is not clear, breaking and avoidance systems might also be triggered. In Europe there is talk of requiring retro-fit of the truck mirrors and the doors in the cab to make the truck cab doors glass that can be seen through the blind spots. There are also ideas for new truck cab designs.

Some safety advocates would like to see a range of reforms: training for drivers, restrictions on the size of trucks allowed on busy city streets, better designed streets that will give pedestrians and cyclists more protection, tougher penalties on drivers who kill bicycle riders and pedestrians, blind spot mitigation, side underride protection systems, rear underride protection systems, and of course improve crash data reporting. There's a massive problem with the state and federal crash data reporting which means we don't even have all the data in the information age which could inform us more precisely about which truck trailers are dangerous, which truck cabs.

Blind Spot

The blind spot on the right side of the tractor - trailer is of particular concern because it impinges on a large portion of the driver's field of view and is disproportionately involved in collisions involving pedestrians, cyclists, and passenger vehicles. [...] death rates of vulnerable road users involved in collisions with tractor - trailers were high: 152.8 per 1,000 involved pedestrians/cyclists and 119.5 per 1,000 involved motorcyclists. In comparison, death rates were 2.0 per 1,000 involved tractor - trailer occupants and 10.9 per 1,000 involved passenger vehicle occupants. [5]

Side Guards

Large truck side impacts comprised 15 percent of fatal two - vehicle collisions between large trucks and passenger vehicles during 2011. Furthermore, research indicated that passenger vehicle collisions with the sides of tractor - trailers resulted in more than 15,000 injured persons during 2001 - 2003.

In 2012, Brumbelow estimated that 530 passenger vehicle occupants died each year during 2006 – 2008 in two - vehicle collisions between passenger vehicles and the sides of large trucks. [5]

Rear Underride Guards

Truck rear impacts. Rear impacts to tractor - trailers are common: according to the GES, there were 15,329 police - reported collisions in which passenger vehicles collided with the rears of tractor - trailers during 2005 – 2009 (about 3,065 annually). NHTSA reported that large truck rear impacts comprised 19 percent of fatal two - vehicle collisions between large trucks and passenger vehicles during 2011. [5]

There continue to be new efforts, like this, but not sweeping improvements.

Learn More: Truck drivers be aware and watch for pedestrians, bicycle riders, motorcycle riders, and small passenger cars