This post was originally published on 5-5-16, and updated 2-10-17.
Most city streets, with tight intersections and multiple stoplights, were not designed to accommodate tractor-trailer trucks alongside pedestrians and bicyclists.
Large trucks have a high, wide gap between the truck’s front and rear tires.
This dangerous space is where 50% of the deaths from truck and bicycle collisions occur.
A side guard is a panel that blocks the dangerous space between the truck’s front and rear wheels.
This simple safety device prevents cyclists—and pedestrians—from being trapped and crushed by the truck’s rear wheels.
Dozens of people die each year in side-impact truck crashes. Hundreds more are seriously injured. Yet, side guards are not required safety equipment for trucks in Seattle, or in Washington, or in most of the U.S.
Why aren’t trucks using side panels to prevent fatalities?
It’s not exactly clear.
Truck side guards are not expensive. Side panels only cost a few hundred dollars each—while most other truck parts are vastly more expensive. They also reduce the drag of air flow underneath trailers, which can save a lot of money on fuel.
Side guards can be retrofitted to existing truck trailers. There is no need to wait for new trucks to improve safety.
Side guards are mandatory in many countries. Most trucks in the UK, and all large trucks in the European Union, are required to have side guards. Since the UK law was implemented 30 years ago, there has been a 61% reduction in cyclist fatalities and a 20% reduction in pedestrian fatalities from side-impact collisions with trucks.
But, the NTSB doesn’t actually make those rules: that power lies with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Requiring large trucks to add side guard now could prevent many injuries, and save thousands of lives.
Update: trucking safety issue is gaining traction.
Investigative reporter Ronan Farrow looked at truck side guards on a TODAY show segment.
Farrow reports that the Department of Transportation has been considering mandatory truck side guards since the 1960’s. After the NTSB study in 2014 that found side guards would mitigate injury in 9 of 10 side collisions, trucking companies lobbied hard against the safety feature.
As noted above, NHTSA can pass safety laws. But Congress can direct NHTSA to pass safetey laws – like mandating truck side guards.
Farrow interviewed Joan Claybrook, the former head of NHTSA. When asked why this safety issue has never been resolved, she stated bluntly “the trucking industry gives a huge amount of money to Congress”.
Members of the Senate Transportation Committee received more than $9,000,000 in campaign contributions from the transportation industry, just in the 2016 election cycle.
Want to take action?
NBC posted a list of Senate and House Transportation Committee members here.
Safety advocate Marianne Karth has a petition you can sign here.