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Posts from the Trucks Category

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Why American Trucks Are So Deadly for Pedestrians and Cyclists

Large trucks are a leading killer of cyclists and pedestrians in urban areas. While London has recently decided to kick the most dangerous trucks out of the city, in the U.S., truck safety regulations are much further behind.

Alex Epstein, left, a researcher with U.S. DOT's Volpe Center, has been studying how side guards (shown in yellow) can help save cyclists. Boston developed a side guard policy with his help. Photo: Volpe

Alex Epstein, left, a researcher with U.S. DOT’s Volpe Center, has been studying how side guards (the yellow lattice) can prevent pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. Photo: Volpe

Engineer Alex Epstein of the Volpe Center, a research arm of U.S. DOT, spent five years examining how truck design affects bike and pedestrian safety. As a government researcher, he’s not authorized to discuss federal regulations, but his work is intended to guide policy.

We spoke with Epstein about what he’s learned and the potential implications. The interview was lightly edited for length and clarity.

So what have you been learning? 

We’ve been looking at the impact on bicycle and pedestrian safety, particularly in urban areas. The proportion of bicycle and pedestrian fatalities involving large trucks and the proportion of trucks on the road is not one-to-one.

Nationally it’s more like 3 to 1 — three times as many bicyclists killed. So 11 percent of bicyclist [fatalities are accounted for] by the 4 percent of vehicles on the road [that] are trucks.

In cities, it’s more disproportionate. In New York City, about 32 percent — about one out of every three cyclists that are killed — are killed by a truck. And for pedestrians it’s about one in eight.

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How American Cities Can Protect Cyclists From Deadly Trucks

Side guards save lives. Photo via Vision Zero Network

Side guards save lives. Photo via Vision Zero Network

Heavy trucks kill. They account for as much as 32 percent of cyclist deaths in New York City and 58 percent in London, far out of proportion to their share of traffic. Across the U.S., 1,746 bicyclists and pedestrians have been killed in collisions with commercial trucks over the last five years.

For cities looking to reduce traffic fatalities, the dangers posed by heavy trucks must be addressed. London is a global standard bearer, but some American cities are also making progress on truck safety. A report from the Vision Zero Network [PDF] highlights some of the best policies.

1. Mandate side guards and crossover mirrors for city trucks

American cities don’t have the power to regulate vehicle designs the way British cities do, but they do have control over their own fleets. Applying effective safety standards to municipal truck fleets is a good first step for cities.

The 2012 death of 23-year-old Christopher Weigl drew attention to the problem of truck design in Boston. One feature the city’s trucks lacked was side guards, which prevent severe injuries in the event a truck driver sideswipes a pedestrian or cyclist, keeping the victim away from the path of the rear wheels.

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London Is Going to Ban the Deadliest Trucks From Its Streets

Photo: Transport for London via Treehugger

Image: Transport for London via Treehugger

Heavy trucks with big blind spots are a deadly menace to cyclists and pedestrians.

In Boston, eight of the nine cyclist fatalities between 2012 and 2014 involved commercial vehicles, according to the Boston Cyclists Union [PDF].

Between June and September this year, there were six cyclist fatalities in Chicago, and all six involved commercial vehicles.

In New York City, drivers of heavy trucks account for 32 percent of bike fatalities and 12 percent of pedestrian fatalities, despite the fact that they are only 3.6 percent of traffic.

U.S. cities are starting to take steps like requiring sideguards on some trucks. But no American city is tackling the problem like London is.

In London, city officials estimate that 58 percent of cyclist deaths and more than a quarter of pedestrian deaths involve heavy trucks, even though trucks only account for 4 percent of traffic. Evidence suggests trucks pose an especially large risk to women cyclists.

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The Appalling Rollback of Truck Safety Provisions in the DRIVE Act

A battle is brewing over the Senate transportation bill’s approach to truck safety. Though large trucks are involved in crashes that kill nearly 4,000 people a year — a number that has grown by 17 percent over the past five years — the DRIVE Act actually rolls back what few protections exist.

The bill would allow longer and heavier tractor-trailers. Trucking companies would be able to double up two 33-foot trailers behind one truck, even in states that have banned such big loads.

The bill would also cut down on mandated rest periods for truckers, a long-simmering question. Right now, truckers have to rest for at least 34 hours between work weeks, with that 34-hour break including two overnights and the work week not including more than 70 hours of driving. The Senate bill would allow truckers to work 82 hours a week with less rest.

Perhaps most appalling, the DRIVE Act would let teenagers drive commercial trucks.

Yes, the bill would allow 18-year-olds to drive commercial trucks, despite the elevated crash risk of teenage drivers. A raft of legal provisions and insurance standards work to protect the public from notoriously unsafe teen drivers, who pose a danger to society even driving a VW bug, much less a big rig with two 33-foot trailers.

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After Another Cyclist Dies, David Cameron Considers Truck Ban in UK Cities

Following the death of 26-year-old cyclist Ying Tao, British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would look into a truck ban for city centers throughout the UK.

Prime Minister David Cameron, leader of Britain’s Conservative Party. Photo via Thinking About Cycling

In a meeting with the British equivalent of the Congressional Bike Caucus, Cameron promised to ask Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin to come up with recommendations for improving cycling safety in the country. He suggested that that list could include a ban on trucks in city centers, improved intersection design, and staggered traffic light phasing. Cameron also said he would ask officials to look into greater enforcement of rules mandating that trucks feature certain safety features.

More than half of London cyclist deaths involve trucks. Six of the seven cyclists killed in London so far this year were women hit by construction trucks.

Parliamentarian Ben Bradshaw, the cycling group’s leader, noted that Britain’s major cities “have a lamentable record both for levels of cycling and for cycle safety compared to those of our European neighbours, and it would take very little public investment to make a big improvement in the climate for cycling.”

The government is currently drafting a Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. Currently, about 2 percent of trips in Britain are made by bike, but less than 1 percent of transportation funding goes to cycling.

Several European cities prohibit the entrance of heavy vehicles into downtown areas during peak hours, including Paris, Dublin, and Prague.

Earlier this year, London mandated that trucks over 3.5 tons need to have side guards to protect cyclists from being dragged under the wheels and extra mirrors to eliminate blind spots.

While the city maintains a peak-hour ban on the largest trucks (over 40,000 pounds) on specified city streets, Mayor Boris Johnson has rejected calls for more comprehensive regulations, like extending the ban to cover the type of truck involved in the killing of Ying Tao.

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Trucking Industry Imposes Up to $128 Billion in Costs on Society Each Year

Cross-posted from City Observatory

Screen Shot 2015-06-02 at 12.37.58 PM

During National Infrastructure Week earlier this month, we again endured what has become a common refrain of woe about crumbling bridges, structurally deficient roads, and a lack of federal funding for infrastructure. This call for alarm was quickly followed by yet another Congressional band-aid for the nearly bankrupt highway trust fund — and this one will hold for just sixty days.

It’s clear that our transportation finance system is broken. To make up the deficit, politicians frequently call for increased user fees — through increased taxes on gasoline, vehicle miles traveled, or even bikes. All the while, one of the biggest users of the transportation network — the trucking industry — has been rolling down the highway fueled by billions in federal subsidies.

A new report from the Congressional Budget Office estimates that truck freight causes more than $58 to $129 billion annually in damages and social costs in the form of wear and tear on the roads, crashes, congestion and pollution — an amount well above and beyond what trucking companies currently pay in taxes.

CBO doesn’t report that headline number, instead computing that the external social costs of truck freight on a “cents per ton mile basis” range between 2.62 and 5.86 cents per ton mile. For the average heavy truck, they estimate that the cost works out to about 21 to 46 cents per mile travelled.

That might not sound like a lot, but the nation’s 10.6 million trucks travel generate an estimated 2.2 trillion ton miles of travel per year. When you multiply the per ton mile cost of 2.52 to 5.86 cents per mile times 2.2 trillion ton-miles, you get an annual cost of between $57 and $128 billion per year.

Unfortunately, trucking companies don’t pay these costs. They are passed along to the rest of us in the form of damaged roads, crash costs, increased congestion and air pollution. Because they don’t pay the costs of these negative externalities, the firms that send goods by truck don’t have to consider them when deciding how and where to ship goods. This translates into a huge subsidy for the trucking industry of between 21 and 46 cents per mile.

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Hastily-Debated Collins Measure Could Put More Tired Truckers on the Road

Truck crashes killed almost 4,000 people in 2012. Sen. Susan Collins wants to suspend a safety rule aimed at reducing that number. Screenshot from ##http://6abc.com/traffic/police-truck-driver-fell-asleep-prior-to-crash-on-i-95-in-del/144318/##6ABC##

Truck crashes killed almost 4,000 people in 2012. Sen. Susan Collins wants to suspend a safety rule aimed at reducing that number. Screenshot from 6ABC

It just wouldn’t be Congress if we weren’t trying to debate substantive policy changes, with drastic implications for public safety, with a government shutdown deadline fast approaching.

As Congress tries to wrap up the hideously-named “cromnibus” (continuing resolution (CR) + omnibus) spending bill for the rest of FY 2015 by Thursday, one provision is attracting a heated debate over road safety.

An amendment introduced over the summer by Maine Senator Susan Collins would repeal elements of a 2011 U.S. DOT rule requiring truck drivers to get adequate rest. The two basic pillars of that hours-of-service rule are: 1) drivers have to take a 30-minute rest break within the first eight hours of their shift, and, more contentiously, 2) drivers have to take a 34-hour “restart” period once every seven days. That 34-hour rest period must include two consecutive overnights between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. According to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, “The net effect of these changes was to reduce the average maximum week a driver could work from 82 hours to 70 hours.”

The Collins amendment would maintain the 34-hour rest mandate but would remove the requirement that it include two overnights, and it would allow drivers to take more than one restart in a seven-day period, thereby starting a new 70-hour workweek.

Truck crashes caused 3,921 deaths in 2012 [PDF]. Bloomberg News reports that the fatal-crash rate increased each year from 2009 through 2012, reversing a five-year trend.

Sec. Foxx noted in his blog post that most truckers “behave responsibly and drive well within reasonable limits,” but that the rules guard against those “who are tempted to push the limits.”

“Additionally, new research available on the subject demonstrated that long work hours, without sufficient recovery time, lead to reduced sleep and chronic fatigue,” Foxx wrote. “That fatigue leads drivers to have slower reaction times and a reduced ability to assess situations quickly.” He added that drivers often can’t accurately assess their own fatigue.

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Streetsblog.net
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Why Smaller Delivery Vehicles Could Be Huge for Cities

Smaller delivery trucks could make cities a lot safer. Photo: Flickr, Jason Lawrence

Using small delivery vehicles instead of big rigs could make cities a lot safer. Photo: Jason Lawrence/Flickr

CityLab ran an article recently about how smaller delivery trucks could be coming to U.S. cities, with the makers of 15-foot cargo vans used in many European cities poised to begin marketing them in the United States.

That is important not just because these smaller vehicles are inherently safer, but because it could mean safer road designs altogether. Michael Andersen at Bike Portland elaborates:

Here in Portland, the fact that most cargo vehicles are big and dangerous to be around is a subtle influence on almost everything we do with our streets.

Last week, discussing chaotic behavior on North Williams Avenue, city project manager Rich Newlands wrote in an email that although it’d be “better” to run a concrete curb alongside a green-painted bike lane just north of Broadway, that would be impossible because of the “the turning radius of large trucks.”

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Trucker in Tracy Morgan Crash: Lay Off, It Was an “Accident”

Kevin Roper, the Walmart trucker who reportedly slammed into a limo bus carrying several comedians early Saturday morning, is having his say on Twitter. He wants the world to know that the crash that killed James “Uncle Jimmy Mack” McNair and critically injured Tracy Morgan and three others was an “accident.”

Roper asserts that he was not drunk or high and that he wasn’t charged at the scene because he wasn’t guilty of any crime. He referred repeatedly to his “ACCIDENT,” underlining the reason why Streetsblog and an increasing number of other publications refer to such events as “crashes” or “collisions.”

Note: The Twitter account under the handle @Kevinmoneytalks describes its user as “Trying to win more than lose! Driving trucks for a living #Walmart,” but we don’t have any independent verification that these tweets were indeed authored by the same person who was driving the truck that hit the comedians’ limo. According to news reports, the Twitter account previously included the phrase, “Move or get hit!” in the description, but that’s been removed.

The sad thing is, Roper is right about one thing: Without the media spotlight brought on by the involvement of celebrities, he probably would have gotten “a few traffic tickets.” As he said, he wasn’t immediately charged with anything. That’s how the justice system views these crashes: unavoidable acts of god, the unfortunate collateral damage of the “freedom” afforded by car culture.

No matter whether Roper was drunk, high, or tired, he failed to notice that traffic had slowed down and slammed his tractor-trailer into another vehicle, and that act caused loss of life. Operating any vehicle — especially one as massive as a tractor-trailer — requires serious attention and concentration.

Although in one tweet he says, “i wish it was me and i can’t express how horrible i feel,” all his subsequent tweets are defensive and exculpatory. After all, killing someone in traffic is just an “accident.”

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As Senate Suspends Fatigue Rules, Trucker Charged in Tracy Morgan Crash

Over the weekend, comedian James “Jimmy Mack” McNair died and Tracy Morgan and three other comedians were critically injured when a tractor-trailer crashed into their limo on the New Jersey Turnpike.

One comedian was killed and other critically injured Saturday morning at an hour when rules had limited truck drivers from driving -- until two days earlier.

One comedian was killed and others critically injured on the New Jersey Turnpike in the early morning hours Saturday. Last week, the Senate suspended rules aimed at limiting late-night driving among truckers.

Truck driver Kevin Roper is expected to appear in court today on one count of death by auto and four counts of assault by auto. He was driving a Walmart truck around 1 a.m. Saturday when he reportedly failed to notice that traffic had slowed. He crashed into the limo bus, which had Morgan, McNair, and stand-up comedians Ardie Fuqua Jr., Harris Stanton, and three others on board, according to officials. The limo driver wasn’t hurt.

According to the criminal complaint New Jersey authorities filed against the truck driver, Roper had not slept for over 24 hours and was operating the vehicle “recklessly.”

That was Saturday. On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Committee had voted 21-9 to suspend rules aimed at reducing driver fatigue, including rules limiting driving at the hour when the crash occurred.

Sen. Susan Collins said driver-fatigue rules had "unintended consequences."

Sen. Susan Collins said driver fatigue rules had “unintended consequences.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) introduced the successful amendment, which suspended a requirement that truck drivers rest for at least 34 consecutive hours –- including two nights from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. –- before beginning their next work week. The rules also limit the maximum average work week for truck drivers to 70 hours, a decrease from the previous maximum of 82 hours, and require drivers to take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of a shift.

Collins said the hours-of-service rules had the “unintended consequences” of forcing truckers to drive during the congested daylight hours, rather than the middle of the night, when traffic is lighter. Off-peak freight delivery is often cited as a common-sense solution to reduce truck congestion in cities.

Truckers chafe at the suggestion that the government knows best when they’re tired and when they should rest. We don’t yet know what exactly caused this crash, but driver fatigue is a real problem with deadly consequences. And in urban environments, drivers face far more complex conditions than what Roper found on the turnpike.

The Senate suspended the hours-of-service rules so it could study them. They already have a case study to investigate.