Cycling blindspot: how simple truck side panels can save lives

How two simple panels could save lives


The horrific accident that took the life of cyclist Jenna Morrison on Monday, November 7, is likely to raise the profile of a safety measure largely ignored as activists and councillors continue to fight over every inch of bike lanes on our streets.

Early indications are that Morrison fell beneath a truck and was crushed by its rear wheels as both vehicles turned right onto Dundas West from Sterling.

It’s a common and frequently deadly type of accident, in which the combination of a driver’s blind spot, a tight right turn and a gaping space beneath the truck lead to disaster even at slow speeds.

Side guards are designed to stop just this type of accident. Two simple panels are fitted between a truck’s front and rear wheels, ensuring that in a collision, cyclists or pedestrians are thrown clear of the vehicle, not pulled under.

Canadian transit authorities say side guards reduce pedestrian fatalities by 20 per cent, and a 1998 Toronto coroner’s report on cycling deaths recommended exploring the idea of making them mandatory.

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“Let’s face it, we don’t have the luxury of having bike lanes painted everywhere,” says Councillor Mike Layton, head of City Hall’s ad hoc cycling committee. “When cyclists are on roads without bike lanes, they should have other levels of protection.”

In the UK, truck side guards have been mandatory for 25 years and are now required in all European Union countries. But despite all the evidence that they protect vulnerable road users, nothing has been done to mandate them here, and the issue has taken a back seat to other safety measures.

Newfoundland-based Jeannette Holman-Price knows first-hand how dangerous trucks without side guards can be. Her daughter Jessica was killed in 2005 when a truck hopped a curb in Montreal. Jessica pulled her younger brother out of the way, but she couldn’t save herself. Since then, Holman-Price has led a campaign to make side guards mandatory in Canada.

“They’re simple, they take no time to make, they cost less than 1 per cent of the vehicle,” she says, arguing that there’s no reason why all trucks shouldn’t be fitted with them.

Holman-Price is lobbying the federal government to make them mandatory, and she has the backing of NDP MP Olivia Chow, who has raised the issue several times in Parliament. But so far the government has shown no interest. In an emailed statement from Transport Canada, the ministry says it “has not found research data indicating that side guards would be effective in Canada.”

While the federal government is responsible for regulating newly built and imported vehicles, under the Highway Traffic Act provinces can regulate vehicles already on the roads. In theory, Ontario could mandate side guards, but there’s no sign that’s a priority at Queen’s Park. The provincial transport ministry did not return a request for comment by press time.

At the city level, Layton says he’s conferring with his colleagues and considering what council can do. Councillors Glenn De Baeremaeker and Ana Bailão, whose ward includes the intersection where Morrison was killed Monday, say they support the safety additions.

A first step might be to pass a motion at city council asking the other two levels of government to make regulations. Toronto could also follow the lead of Portland, Oregon, which fitted city-operated trucks with side guards after two high-profile cycling deaths.

In the absence of effective government action, Holman-Price believes citizens need to speak out against preventable deaths so others don’t have to endure the pain of losing a loved one.

“What we need,” she says, “is public outrage.”

bens@nowtoronto.com

Memorial for Jenna Morrison

Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists (ARC) holds a memorial ride for Jenna Morrison Monday (November 14). It leaves from Bloor and Spadina at 7:30 am and joins others at 8 am at Dundas West and Sterling.

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