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Side guards not the answer

Recently, a call to mandate side guards on all trucks resurfaced by way of a private member's bill introduced by federal NDP transport critic, Olivia Chow. Side guards (also referred to as "lateral protective" or "side under-run protection"...


Recently, a call to mandate side guards on all trucks resurfaced by way of a private member’s bill introduced by federal NDP transport critic, Olivia Chow. Side guards (also referred to as “lateral protective” or “side under-run protection” devices) are required on some vehicles in some parts of Europe and Japan and are intended to provide protection to pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists against the risk of falling under the sides of a truck and being caught under the wheels.

This was the third time Ms. Chow has introduced such proposed legislation, which she said was in honour of a Toronto bicyclist who died tragically after a collision with a straight truck while both were attempting to make a right-hand turn at an intersection. The truck driver was not charged.

Any loss of life is a tragedy and we fully understand the emotional motivation for solutions, but the Canadian Trucking Alliance cannot support Ms. Chow’s bill for the simple reason there is scant evidence that the mandatory installation of side guards would actually prevent cyclist and pedestrian deaths or injuries. This is not a cost issue for CTA, as Ms. Chow intimated. The alliance has a clear track record in advocating for the mandatory installation of technologies and devices that are proven to improve highway safety, such as speed limiters on all trucks, electronic on-board recorders to monitor compliance with truck driver hours-of-service rules and roll stability systems.

A 2010 study conducted by the National Research Council for Transport Canada concluded “it is not clear if side guards will reduce deaths and serious injury or if the guards will simply alter the mode of death and serious injury.”

For example, people may “strike the guards and then be ejected or diverted into another lane of traffic to suffer a serious injury as part of a secondary event with another vehicle or with the road/sidewalk surface.”

Furthermore, the study pointed out that city buses have lower built-in skirting than trailers equipped with side guards, yet there are incidents of passengers being killed as they slip and fall under the wheels of moving city buses. “Side guards alone will not eliminate serious injuries,” concluded the study. Moreover, the trucks operating in inner-city areas – and therefore the trucks most likely to encounter cyclists – tend to be from the smaller classes (ie., straight trucks, delivery vehicles, dump trucks, garbage trucks, etc.)

The vast majority of tractor-trailer units which are prevalent on the highways, will very seldom, if ever, operate in the downtowns of our major urban centres. According to Transport Canada, there are about 221,000 registered commercial highway tractor-trailer units in Canada. Given that most trucking companies have at least a 2:1 trailer-tractor ratio that would mean that at least 442,000 trailers would need to have side guards installed on them. This is unreasonable considering the overwhelming majority of that equipment is dedicated to highways and seldom comes into contact with cyclists and pedestrians in urban areas.

There also appears to be confusion between side guards and the side fairings, which are increasingly being installed on tractor-trailer combinations to provide improved fuel efficiency by reducing aerodynamic drag. Although similar in appearance, a distinction needs to be made between the two devices. They are designed for two completely different things. As the NRC study states, the addition of rail style side guards “would be detrimental to the drag coefficient of highway vehicles travelling at higher speeds” and possibly “counterproductive to other global initiatives that are currently aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption.”

It also remains unclear if the addition of side guards will alleviate, or exacerbate the issue of snow, ice and mud collection on the underside of heavy vehicles. And, there may also be technical challenges to fitting continuous flush mount side guards to certain non-articulated trucks, commodity vehicles and trailers equipped with self-steer axles. CTA and some cycling advocates believe a better solution is increased awareness and education on how to safely share the road with different types of vehicles and better planning to incorporate bike lanes on city streets in order to separate cyclists from other traffic. CTA is open to discussing such initiatives with legislators, safety advocates and the cyclist community. But, we cannot support a mandatory requirement for side guards.


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