Cycling safety focus of MP Olivia Chow's new bill

NDP MP Olivia Chow introduced a private member's bill on Monday that would require heavy trucks to install guards to prevent cyclists from getting trapped in the space between the wheels.
NDP MP Olivia Chow is introducing a bill on Monday that she says will help protect cyclists by making it mandatory for trucks to install barriers around their wheels. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

It should be mandatory for trucks to have side guards in order to protect cyclists and pedestrians, according to a bill  introduced by NDP MP Olivia Chow on Monday.

Chow, the NDP's transport critic, is making yet another attempt to propose the legislation. She's tried twice before with previous bills and tabled motions and petitions.

Chow says the bill would improve road safety by preventing cyclists and pedestrians from being trapped in the space between a truck’s wheels if they are hit.

"New Democrats are urging the federal government to put the safety of pedestrians and cyclists first," Chow said in a statement. "This is a common sense measure that can save lives."

Chow introduced the bill in memory of Jenna Morrison, a 38-year-old mother who was killed in Toronto last week when she was clipped by a truck while riding her bike. Morrison was pregnant and on her way to pick up her five-year-old son.

"This bill is too late for Jenna Morrison ... but it's not too late for the ones she left behind," Chow said when she tabled the bill.

Memorial ride in Toronto

memorial ride was held Monday morning in Toronto in honour of Morrison. Hundreds of cyclists rode through the city before stopping at the spot where she was killed.

Another woman in her 30s was also recently killed in Ottawa while cycling on a downtown street. Danielle Nacu, 33, collided with the door of a parked car and fell into the path of a car driving behind her.

Chow has accused the Conservative government of not doing enough to improve road safety.

"When it comes to creating safe roads for everyone, the Conservatives are dropping the ball. The government should start listening to more than just their industry friends," said Chow in a news release. "One preventable death is one too many. It’s time we did a better job protecting cyclists and pedestrians."

In a letter sent by Chow to Transport Minister Denis Lebel, the Toronto MP says that requiring trucks to install the guards would significantly improve survival rates for cyclists and pedestrians hit by trucks.

According to Chow, Transport Canada statistics show 20 per cent of all bicycle fatalities in Canada involve large trucks, and in urban areas, the number is closer to 40 per cent.

The federal government was urged by Toronto's regional coroner back in 1998 to look into the feasibility of fitting heavy trucks with the guards, Chow's letter to the minister states.

She says the government has ignored the calls for the mandatory side guards because it says a requirement would result in decreased competitiveness for Canadian trucking companies. She estimates that it costs a few hundred dollars to install the guards.

Chow says Canada is lagging behind other countries that made the guards mandatory years ago.

The minister of state for transport, Conservative MP Steven Fletcher, said Morrison's death was "very tragic" when Chow raised the issue in question period Monday.

"We are looking to research to see what can be done in this area," said Fletcher. But he said that if provinces feel that the guards are necessary, they can go ahead and make their own rules.

"I look forward to working with this member and any other member who has an interest in this topic," said Fletcher.

Following question period, Chow said she was encouraged by Fletcher's response.

Trucking association rejects Chow's bill

The Canadian Trucking Alliance says it is opposed to Chow's bill, not because of the cost of the guards or competition issues, but because there's no evidence they would save lives or lead to fewer injuries.

"This is a complex issue," association president David Bradley said. "While we fully understand the emotions that would be cause for some people to support mandatory side guards, we feel the solution lies elsewhere – in increasing awareness and education and planning for bike lanes."

Bradley said a 2010 study by the National Research Council for Transport Canada concluded that it is not clear if side guards will reduce deaths and serious injury of if they will instead alter the mode of death and serious injury.

He also said there needs to be a distinction made between trucks operating in urban areas, which he says tend to be smaller  and include everything from delivery vehicles to garbage trucks and tractor-trailer units that operate on highways.

"Very seldom, if ever, will the vast majority of tractor-trailers operate downtown; they are unlikely to ever encounter cyclists," he said. "Does it make sense that tractor-trailers be required to install side guards?"

Bradley's association, which represents more than 4,500 trucking companies, says it is disappointed by Chow's bill and that it is portraying the trucking industry in a negative light. Bradley notes that she has never discussed the issue of side guards with his association.

He says the trucking industry works regularly with cycling advocates to improve road safety and awareness about sharing the road with trucks.