Seattle DOT Takes Truck Safety Into Its Own Hands

The DOT is installing side guards on its trucks to reduce the risk of fatal collisions with people walking and biking.

Seattle DOT is installing side guards on its trucks to prevent pedestrians and cyclist fatalities. Photo: Walker Blocker
Seattle DOT is installing side guards on its trucks to prevent pedestrians and cyclist fatalities. Photo: Walker Blocker

Large trucks pose a disproportionate threat to people walking and biking. With their large blind spots, clunky steering, and terrific force, heavy trucks are involved in a far greater percentage of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities than their share of overall traffic mileage.

Many aspects of freight movement could be reformed to reduce exposure to dangerous trucks, but there’s one simple piece of equipment that can save lives immediately: side guards. Side guards prevent people from being run over by the rear wheels of trucks, and they are mandatory in several countries in South America, Europe, and Asia. But not in the U.S.

The federal government treats side guards as a voluntary safety measure, and American cities are just beginning to use their leverage to spread adoption. New York City has started to equip city-owned trucks with side guards, and Boston is taking the further step of requiring them on trucks operated by city contractors.

Now Seattle DOT is getting in on the act, Tom Fucoloro at Seattle Bike Blog reports:

By attaching a guard that runs along any gaps in the side of the truck or trailer body, anyone hit has a better chance of being pushed out of the way of the following wheels. The impact can still be bad, of course, but the odds of survival are much higher. A study in the UK found that such side guards reduced fatalities by 61 percent for people biking and 20 percent for people walking, according to USDOT.

SDOT needs to get its own house in order. And they are. The department has started installing side guards on its fleet of trucks. And what’s even better: The guards are manufactured right here at Allied Body near South Park under the company’s new side guard brand Walker Blocker. A local business making safety devices for local freight, I love it.

And for any business owners of managers worried about the cost of the side guards, the safety benefits alone definitely make it worth it. But trucks with side guards also get a 4–7 percent boost in gas mileage. For big trucks, that much fuel adds up fast.

There’s good data behind the benefits of side guards, and now the guards are easily accessible locally. It’s time for the city to pursue rules requiring side guards, at least for companies that contract with the city. But regardless of rules, every company should be looking to get ahead of the game and add them on their own.

More recommended reading today: Greater Greater Washington explains why the GOP tax bill is bad news for cities. Pricetags writes that the Toronto parking enforcement officer who shamed bike lane blockers on social media has been told to keep quiet. And Spacing considers how Sidewalk Labs’ $50 million urban design experiment in Toronto could go wrong.

  • Guy Ross

    Welcome development, of course. However this curmudgeon will gladly point out that the most dangerous feature of the U.S. cement truck fleet is not a side rail but a totally unnecessary, macho design of having a huge engine house out in front of the driver. This is illegal in all of Europe.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/6874f1c9afc43cb8e4a68135c633885121e828351a8932f2d8019855e330d336.jpg

    Side guards: Good. Being able to see your surroundings when driving a 35 ton vehicle: Better

  • Stephen Simac

    I’m not clear, is this picture a European truck with driver over engine? I don’t see the side guard, or don’t recognize it, since there aren’t many examples in the U.S. You’d think the improved mileage alone would be enough to warrant them.. There is definitely a problem with side mirrors on smaller trucks that can clip cyclists or pedestrians heads, Larger trucks are so wide that they can barely fit into their lane, much less share the road safely with cyclists, which makes them even more aggressive on two lane roads when they do pass within inches..

  • Guy Ross

    The sidegurd on most of these european models is superfluous as the wheelbase is shorter due to the lack of the engine weight way out in front of the vehicle and this shorter space is taken up by the low hanging fuel tanks on both sides. However even these are ‘guarded’ on new models. The photo above is from Austria.

    Here is a model from this last year: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3a59bc20a04fa788a009533a6e20344800c077d12c3777412d40bf20bcd4e5db.jpg

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Life-Saving Truck Design Fix Sidelined By Federal Inaction

|
This is the second post in a Streetsblog NYC series about safety features for large vehicles. Part one examined the case for truck side guards and New York City’s attempt to require them for its fleet. American cities are beginning to take the lead on requiring side guards on large trucks in municipal fleets. That’s […]

How American Cities Can Protect Cyclists From Deadly Trucks

|
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 […]

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. Engineer Alex Epstein of the Volpe Center, a research arm of U.S. DOT, spent five years examining how truck design […]

Trucks and Cities Are Like Oil and Water. Is There a Solution?

|
About 350 pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are killed each year by large trucks in this country. Big freight trucks are incompatible with cities in many ways, bringing danger, pollution, noise, and traffic congestion. They park in bike lanes and have shockingly big blind spots, putting everyone around them at risk. And yet, most cities haven’t […]