It’s a classic bike-truck accident scenario: Truck at intersection, cyclist on right of truck, waiting. Light turns green. Cyclist advances. Truck turns right. Splooch. It played out again this Aug. 22 in Montreal, and a young woman died.
“Every collision between trucks and cyclists in Montreal, the classic one is when a truck makes a right turn and the cyclist tries to squeeze between the truck and the sidewalk, and that’s it,” says Andre Durocher, an inspector with the Highway Safety Division of the Service de police de la Ville de Montreal (SPVM).
Despite the close quarters and heavy traffic, such fatalities in Montreal are remarkably low: Annual cyclist deaths have totaled three, four, four, five, six, two and three from 2009-15, respectively, plus two fatalities so far this year. Pedestrian fatalities are higher: around 19 a year from 2009-14, and around a dozen a year from 2013-15. Serious and minor injuries combined, number around 1,900 a year for cyclists and pedestrians.
These numbers, from the Societe de l’assurance automobile du Quebec (SAAQ) and SVPM, provide no breakout of how many fatalities involved trucks, but in a search of newspaper articles, trucks figure in some of them.
Every fatal altercation with a truck is gory grist for the local media mill, and fuels another round of finger pointing and committee chatter. Trucks go too fast! Ticket those speeding truckers! Install side guards, cameras. Ban the trucks. Close some streets to cyclists. Install more photo radar cameras at intersections.
Dispatching the speeding accusation, Durocher says, “I don’t think there has been a single fatality in Montreal involving speed.”
Some Montreal boroughs have installed side guards and cameras on their city trucks. Ostensibly, they will keep cyclists and pedestrians from going under the wheels, and make them more visible to drivers. But a National Research Council of Canada study published in 2010, expressed doubt that side guards were effective.
A frustrating truth lurks in these blind spots. Trucks have huge blind spots, and pedestrians and cyclists are hugely ignorant of them. But aside from pricy techno-solutions, are there other ways of shrinking the blind spots and the ignorance of them?
How about convex crossover mirrors, for instance. Usually seen on school buses, they reveal who’s in front of the grille. New York City thinks they are a good idea. They became mandatory in 2012 for all New York State-registered trucks operating in NYC. (Cost: $50 online).
Some side mirrors now have built-in convex mirrors. For those without them, surely it would shrink the side blind spots to paste on a pair of bubble mirrors. (Cost: $3.22 online).
Durocher tosses in a comment about side mirrors: “There are cases with cube trucks, with the wide mirrors, that hit the cyclists in the head and there will be a fatality.”
Recognizing that blind spots and the accidents attributed to them is not just a driver problem, the SPVM and CRQ, with participation from cities, have mounted various education campaigns to clue in cyclists and pedestrians. On this September’s long weekend, for example, the SPVM and CRQ held one of their education campaigns at the Centre de la nature in Laval. “40,000 people will be there. We will discuss the angle mort, using carpeting (laid out in the shape and size of the blind spots) and a Ville de Laval truck. STM will have a double bus there, Laval police will have a school bus,” says Alain Riendeau, captain, East Montreal, East Laval and the Lanaudière administrative region, CRQ.
This campaign is a continuation of an awareness campaign called 100% vigilant, and “driver for a day” events, which put cyclists and pedestrians in truck blind spots and cabs to teach them about those “angle morts,” literally, dead angles, and that they must share responsibility for staying safe.
“People were surprised that they could not be seen,” Durocher observed. Sadly, he adds, “We did a chauffeur d’un jour last year downtown during Police Week. But there was no media attention for it.”
Asked what he thought about pinning “angle mort” posters on bulletin boards in bike shops and schools, Riendeau said, “That’s a good idea.” Same for stickers and posters for the sides of trucks. “Your point about a picture on the side of a truck is a good idea. It is an idea that we hadn’t thought of.”
But there are no stocks of posters or stickers to hand out.
Short history lesson: In 2000 Transport Quebec launched an awareness campaign called Angle Mort. It included radio and newspaper ads, 325 highway signs and 13,000 self-adhering stickers measuring nearly 10 by 20 inches available free to truckers for their trailers or tractors.
But do four red triangles in an angle mort graphic impress a cyclist waiting alongside an idling truck? I put the question to Adrian Page, a sign maker in Berwick, N.S.
Knowledgeable about which visuals grab and which ones don’t, he suggests, “For it to be effective, a poster needs to be dirt simple, visual, fast. Like a graphic of a bike falling under a wheel.” Perhaps cyclists and pedestrians need to see something with some serious bang staring them in the face while they wait for the light to turn green.