Despite improvements in safety training, the number of accidents and fatalities as a result of collisions between motorcyclists, pedestrians or cyclists and commercial trucks & buses has remained high over the past 30 years – even increasing in our biggest cities. In the USA alone there were 587 such deaths in 1989, 519 in 1999, and 531 in 2014, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Efforts by commercial fleets to improve vehicle safety are counteracted by more traffic and an increase in driver distraction – e.g. the use of handheld devices. It seems like people would rather scroll through their social media feed than pay attention to where they’re walking or driving.
While the mixture of large vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists in crowded urban and suburban areas always calls for extreme caution by all parties, the use of handheld devices has made a difficult situation much worse. According to Injury Facts, for example, distracted walking incidents involving cell phones accounted for more than 11,100 injuries between 2000 and 2011. And the number of pedestrians injured while on their cells has more than doubled since 2005.
As noted by the National Transportation Systems Center (NTSC), pedestrians and bicyclists can fall into the exposed space between the front and rear wheels of large trucks and suffer fatal crushing injuries. Truck side guards work by physically covering that exposed space, shielding vulnerable road users from being swept underneath the truck’s rear wheels.
Using side guards is helping to lower the amount of crushing injuries, but it is also having another positive effect. Many fleet operators have looked to side guards to not only prevent accidents but to also increase fuel efficiency. Studies show that side guards provide between a 4 and 7-percent increase in fuel efficiency.
Side guards have been required standard equipment since the 1980s in the European Union and Japan, and more recently in Brazil. The NTSC reports that in the UK cyclist fatalities from side-impact collisions with trucks dropped 61 percent and pedestrian fatalities 20 percent after the country made side guards required equipment on large trucks.
In the U.S. however, such requirements have yet to been put in place across the country. In 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) made an official recommendation to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requiring side guards on all new trucks weighing over 10,000 pounds, but no action has been taken.
While side guards appear to reduce collision fatalities, they don’t help prevent side collisions in the first place. That’s the next step many municipal and commercial fleet safety managers are seeking. Some safety equipment manufacturers have responded to this increased accident risk by developing new onboard safety technologies. For instance, PRECO Electronics released its new PreView Side Defender™ radar. This new side collision mitigation solution is designed to help commercial truck & bus operators detect bicyclists, pedestrians and vehicles in the truck’s side blind zone, with intelligent different detection modes based on the speed at which the truck is moving.
Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems has offered the Blindspotter side collision mitigation solution to the North America trucking industry for over 7 years, including as a standard on all United Parcel Service Class 8 trucks. Meanwhile, truck manufacturer Daimler Trucks is introducing Sideguard Assist and Active Brake Assist 4 into its new European Mercedes-Benz Trucks. The European Union is considering making side turn assist collision mitigation a regulation sometime around 2020.
It’s clear that side collision mitigation technology is being adopted rapidly by commercial fleets to reduce side collision accidents, injuries and fatalities. Fleet managers are taking a balanced approach to reducing injuries and deaths associated with collisions with pedestrians and cyclists. Side guards have done a great job of reducing fatalities, but the collisions continue to occur. Adding active safety technology, such as object detection radar systems, can help alert an operator of a potential collision before the collision occurs.