“Look Out!” for Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety – Are We Doing Enough?

by Andrew R. Young | October 21st, 2015

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Attorney Andy Young speaking at the American Association for Justice in Montreal about underride truck crashes.

In this magnificent country of ours it may be difficult to accept the fact that as a nation we are decades behind in protecting our pedestrians and bicyclists. According to the most recent statistics published by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the U.S. experienced near 5,000 pedestrian roadway deaths and over 700 bicyclist deaths in 2013. By way of comparison, other nations have adopted effective methods to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety with great success.

Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety In Europe

European nations have required side underride guards on its trucks since the 1980s. The initial impact between a truck-bicycle or truck-pedestrian is not typically what causes the fatality. It is the fact that the bicyclist or pedestrian falls toward the larger vehicle and into the gap between the larger vehicle’s front and rear axles. The bicyclist or pedestrian then ends up underneath the chassis and wheels of the larger vehicle thereafter causing the fatality. European mandated lateral side guards prevent vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and bicyclists from going underneath the larger vehicle. The side guards give something for the pedestrian or bicyclist to interact with upon impact deflecting them away from the truck. While injury may occur, the vulnerable road user does not end up crushed underneath the larger vehicle’s tires.

Statistics in Europe have proven that side guards truly save lives. A study published by the Transportation Research Laboratory identified a 61% reduction in truck-bicycle fatalities and a 20% reduction in truck-pedestrian fatalities in London since lateral side guards became mandatory in 1986. These impressive statistics have also inspired initiatives by unregulated entities, such as single-unit-construction trucks, to implement voluntary programs to outfit trucks with side guards. One voluntary program is known as the Construction Logistics and Cyclist Safety (CLOCS) initiative. This program is “an industry led response to improve safety.” It brings the construction logistics industry together to implement a road safety culture to “help protect pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and other road users who share the roads with construction vehicles.”

Side Guard Initiatives In The United States

The NHTSA is slow to meaningfully regulate underride guard protection. Therefore, it is incumbent upon local and state governments and safety advocates to have foresignt in seeing the benefit of installing underride protection. In 2014, The City of Boston was the first major U.S. City to pass a law with meaningful side underride guard requirements. Mayor Martin J. Walsh submitted the “Ordinance to Protect Vulnerable Road Users in the City of Boston.” The ordinance requires both City trucks and companies that contract with the City to install lateral protection devices on their fleet of commercial motor vehicles.

On May 11, 2015, the University of Washington announced it has installed side guards on thirty-one box trucks in its campus fleet. The UW cites the aforementioned Transportation Research Laboratory study as the rational basis for installing side guards on its trucks.

Volpe, a federal agency that is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, partners with public and private organizations to evaluate and research state-of-the-art safety technologies. They are serving as a leading resource for Cities, States and Universities nationwide interested in learning more about truck side guards. Volpe is advancing side guard technology by partnering with Cities interested in following Boston’s lead.

Last year, I was appointed Chair of the Underride Truck Crash Committee by the Trucking Litigation Group of the American Association for Justice. We have put on programs that have included Volpe and others to create a nationwide network of attorneys willing to serve as volunteer activists to promote side guard legislation in their own cities. Our volunteer numbers are growing and together we hope to create positive, life saving, change for pedestrians and bicyclists throughout the nation. Through local government, we can all “look out” for pedestrian and bicyclist safety and save lives nationwide.

Authored by Andrew R. Young – Chair, Underride Truck Crash Committee, Trucking Litigation Group, American Association for Justice