Nearly 4,000 people are killed and an estimated 95,000 injured annually in crashes involving large trucks on U.S. highways, according to numbers crunched by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. Seventy-one percent of those killed were occupants of other vehicles, while 11 were pedestrians, bicyclists, and others not in a vehicle. Big-city bicyclists account for much of those non-occupants.
In New York City, 32 percent of bicyclist fatalities resulted from crashes with large trucks in 1996 to 2003, according to city statistics. Eight of the nine bicyclists killed in Boston from 2012 to 2014 died in crashes involving large trucks.
Side guards could dramatically reduce those numbers, say some experts.
Already mandatory on trucks operating in the European Union, Brazil, Japan, and China, side guards, installed between the truck’s wheels, doesn’t hold promise to reduce crashes. However, they do seem to limit the number of deaths resulting from crashes with trucks.
A report published by Volpe, The National Transportation Systems Center, for NYC Citywide Administrative Services says fatal side-impact collisions between bicyclists and trucks dropped 61 percent after the U.K. required side guards on all large trucks. Fatal pedestrian incidents dropped 20 percent.
Side guards prevent bicyclists and pedestrians from falling under the wheels of the truck, causing them to bounce off the side in the event of a crash. While it might not prevent injury or serious harm, this “cow catcher” for people is believed to lessen the chances of death.
A handful of American cities, including Boston, have already begun experimenting with installing side guards on city-owned vehicles.
The side guard endeavor isn’t cheap: Installation costs between $1,000 to $2,000 per vehicle. But that price tag may be a small one to pay compared to the emotional and legal price if it prevents a truck driver from having to live with the knowledge his vehicle was involved in a fatal crash.