Cities take the lead on side guards for trucks

By Robbie Webber

As part of its continuing Vision Zero efforts, New York City is considering a requirement that all trucks delivering in the city have side guards installed. This safety feature—common on long-distance semis to improve fuel efficiency, but less common on short-haul trucks—helps prevent pedestrians and bicyclists from slipping under the truck and being run over by the rear wheels. This danger is especially present when trucks make sweeping right turns, often without being able to see people and vehicles in their large blind spots.

Side guards are required in Japan and some EU countries. After the UK began requiring side guards in 1986, there was a 61 percent reduction in bicyclist fatalities and a 20 percent drop in pedestrian fatalities from the type of crashes the guards are meant to mitigate.

All trucks owned by the city in Washington, DC, must have side guards, although the 2008 law was unfunded for several years.  Boston now requires that any trucks contracted with the city have side guards, and the Cambridge, MA, council heard convincing testimony from a representative of the Volpe Center as they considered similar legislation. In addition, the Nation Transportation Safety Board recommended in April 2014 that side guards be mandated. However, the NTSB cannot implement the side guard mandate; that requires action by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. So far, NHTSA has not acted.

Cities have taken the lead because of the importance of pedestrian and bicyclist safety in congested urban areas. New York’s proposal that any truck delivering in the city would need side guards goes the furthest of any legislation so far, as it would be the only one covering privately-owned vehicles not contracting with the city directly.

Although truck safety measures are just one piece of its Vision Zero plan, the effort as a whole seems to be having an effect. Pedestrian fatalities in 2014 were the lowest since the city began keeping records in 1910. Overall traffic deaths were the second lowest on record, although bicyclist fatalities increased in 2013. With a lower speed limit throughout the city, stepped up traffic enforcement, and a new ability to suspend or revoke the license of taxi and livery drivers who injure or kill pedestrians, the city has signaled that it is serious about traffic safety.

Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.