In crowded city streets, one of the most deadly accidents to occur is a side-impact collision between cyclists or pedestrians and municipal work trucks, including sanitation vehicles.
“During a crash with a truck that has high ground clearance, vulnerable road users can fall into the exposed space between the front and rear wheels and suffer fatal crushing injuries,” states the US Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center. “Nearly half of bicyclists and more than one-quarter of pedestrians killed by a large truck first impact the side of a truck.”
Fortunately, there is a solution that is already saving lives. By installing truck side guards that physically block pedestrians and cyclists from sweeping underneath the vehicle’s rear wheels, municipalities and private fleets are protecting citizens and reducing liability.
Already mandated in some metro areas in the US, these safety barriers made from aluminum or steel can retrofit onto existing trucks or be incorporated into new vehicle fleets easily.
This approach has already proven to be surprisingly effective in reducing fatalities. According to Volpe, after a national side guard mandate was placed in the United Kingdom, cyclist fatalities fell 61 percent and pedestrian fatalities by 20 percent in side-impact collisions with trucks. Side guards have been required since the 1980s in the European Union and Japan, and more recently in China, Brazil, and Peru.
“Side guards protect bicyclists and pedestrians against falling under a moving truck and being run over,” says David Biderman, executive director and CEO of Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA), the largest member-based solid waste association in North America. “Hauling companies and municipal sanitation departments that operate in congested cities should seriously consider adding them.”
Although there is no federal mandate in the US yet, Volpe set national standards as a growing number of proactive municipalities such as Boston, Orlando, Seattle, San Francisco, New York City, and Washington, DC utilize truck side guards.
Volpe’s recommended truck side guard standard (DOT-VNTSC-OSTR-16-05) states that Class 3 or above vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 lbs or more should have underride protection. The standard includes dimensional and strength specifications for the side guards, including the ability to withstand 440 lbs of force.
Large trucks have more difficulty making turns and seeing blind spots than smaller vehicles, due to their size, length, and driver elevation above street level. This can increase the risk of collision in populated urban areas, which not only have cyclists sharing the road but also heavy foot traffic at corners and intersections.
“Commercial trucks of all kinds need more room to turn right because right rear wheels often turn tighter than the front wheels, which is an added risk,” Biderman says. “Side guards can offer important protection against tight right turns if a cyclist or pedestrian is in the mirror’s blind spot on the truck’s right side.”
Biderman added that other dangers occur as pedestrians become increasingly distracted, often texting, using smartphones, or listening to music via earbuds. This can make them less aware of their surroundings and prone to accidents.
“Adding side guards can also be an effective way of preventing distracted pedestrians from getting seriously injured, or worse, if they step into the path of a moving truck,” Biderman adds.
One of the nation’s highest profile uses of truck side guards so far occurs in New York City, which is requiring the safety barrier on 10,000 vehicles by 2024 as part of its Vision Zero Action Plan for ending traffic deaths and injuries.
To comply with New York City’s Vision Zero program and Volpe, Action Carting Environmental Services, a provider of non-hazardous waste management services for New York City and New Jersey, chose to retrofit its fleet of trucks with side guards.
“We have retrofitted about 60 trucks with side guards from Dur-A-Guard, which is Vision Zero and Volpe compliant,” says Ken Levine, former corporate safety director at Action Carting. “Using side guards is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing crash severity with cyclists, motorcyclists, and pedestrians on busy city streets. It is an inexpensive way to avoid a potentially catastrophic situation.”
According to Levine, Dur-A-Guard—a Union, New Jersey-based manufacturer of truck side guards—worked with him to accommodate the various makes, models, and configurations of his fleet.
“They custom fit the side guards with all of our trucks, even those with tanks, toolboxes, sidewalls, and bodywork,” Levine says.
Such side guards do not need to be permanently welded onto trucks.
To ease installation and maintenance, some companies like Dur-A-Guard offer side guards that lift up or swing down on hinges to offer access beneath the truck. Another high-density, aluminum design is lightweight enough to be removed by one person.
“We looked into the swing up-, swing down-type side guards, which could help provide access under the truck, but liked the removable ones better,” Levine adds. “One person can easily pull off the removable guards for maintenance and then put them back on.”
According to SWANA’s Biderman, while it makes sense to have some uniformity to the side guards, the problem is there are many truck chassis used in the solid waste industry.
“Even one company with 10 trucks will have very different makes and models, so it becomes challenging to provide a single-sized side guard that works across an entire company’s fleet,” Biderman says.
ALL CAN SAVE LIVES
Dur-A-Guard adapted the safety barriers to a full range of vehicle variations, however, the company created a universal design that accommodates most trucks and ships nationally.
“Anyone involved with truck safety should look into side guards,” Levine says. “Those with a universal design would be helpful to cities or municipalities, which could get them drop-shipped and have their maintenance department install them.”
Dur-A-Guard side guards are shipped in kits and are easily installed. The company also offers installation training and aftermarket replacement rails if a guard gets damaged.
Levine sums up the key point for municipalities. “Truck side guards save lives,” Levine concludes. “If you can save a life, what price tag can you put on that?”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Dur-A-Guard is a product of DureX, Inc. DureX provides top-quality metal stampings, sheet metal fabrications, CNC vertical machining, finished products, in-house powder coating, electro-mechanical assemblies, and packaging all in its 120,000-sq-ft facility. Dur-A-Guard is dedicated to safety and innovative design. Find out more about Dur-A-Guard, visit www.dur-a-guard.com.