Toronto is a city of non-stop construction, which means non-stop trucks and trailers. We are also increasingly a city of cyclists, and sometimes the combination of these trucks and bikes can be deadly. Large trucking vehicles and school buses have a huge open space in front of their real wheels, and their raised chassis can easily cause a cyclist or pedestrian to be snagged and crushed beneath.
A regional Toronto Coroner’s report from 1998 recommended that Transport Canada—our federal vehicle regulatory body—set requirements in the Motor Vehicle Transport Act that all new trucks be designed with side wheel guards to deflect cyclists in a collision. Existing trucks would be required to retrofit the panels over a period of time. Last summer’s staff report [PDF] from the Toronto Public Works Committee examined the issue and also underscored the benefit of under-ride protection panels or deflective crossmembers.
In the U.K. and Europe, the deflectors have been mandated by law since the 1980s. According to the City staff report, Transport Canada advised that there is currently “no similar Canadian regulation because the nature of the traffic mix in Canada is different to that in Europe.” So? With few bike lanes and so many construction and utility vehicles, Toronto cyclists are at particular risk at a rate of about ten injurious collisions with large trucks annually. Between 2005 and 2006, five cyclists died in collisions with trucks, and a 2003 study found “that non-fatal collisions with trucks tend to cause more serious injuries to cyclists than collisions with other vehicles,” mainly due to the vehicles significant mass and slow-moving tires. Cyclists are also often invisible to drivers, passing right through the truck’s blind spot, and a driver may not even know there’s been a collision.
Though the City considered setting an example by designing and retrofitting its own fleet (which has an excellent safety record), they are having trouble justifying the cost of the implementation, especially since side guards apparently aren’t available from any North American supplier (um, how about this company?). Instead, it was recommended that City Council appeal to Transport Canada to pass new legislation on a national basis, which would then include the City fleet. Transport Canada could create new regulations immediately, but continues to believe that it’s not a pressing issue.
What is particularly frustrating is that Transport Canada passed new rules in 2004 to be in full-effect by September that requires transport trailers to have better rear impact guards to protect people in cars from sliding under the truck’s chassis in a read-end collision. The level of importance is based on the number of deaths or serious injuries factored with the amount of cars and trucks on the road. By their logic, the two cyclists killed under the wheels of a truck last summer and the three killed in 2005 were not enough, nor is the fact that 37% of cyclist traffic deaths involve trucks.
The trucking companies won’t implement the deflectors themselves because it’s expensive to install and maintain them, and the Canadian companies feel that the rules would have to be adopted simultaneously throughout the United States Department of Transportation for a retrofit to be fair.
So, we’ve got a nine-year-old Coroner’s report from almost a decade ago, recommendations from City Council and other biking organizations, and a bunch of dead cyclists. What will it take for Transport Canada to actively and rapidly consider a measure that is obviously so critically important to those who share the streets with these gigantic vehicles?
Top and bottom images by Marc Lostracco; middle photo courtesy of Public Transportation Safety International Corp.