Mayor calls on Transport Canada to make side guards mandatory on big trucks

The recent deaths of two female cyclists in collisions with dump trucks just days apart in Montreal and Ottawa has renewed calls for Transport Canada to make side guards mandatory on heavy trucks.

City of Ottawa staff recommended against making side guards mandatory in January

The truck involved in the collision that killed cyclist Nusrat Jahan, 23, didn't have side guards. (CBC News)

The recent deaths of two female cyclists in collisions with dump trucks just days apart in Montreal and Ottawa has renewed calls for Transport Canada to make side guards mandatory on heavy trucks.

Transport Canada has not recommended the safety feature for large, heavy trucks, arguing in a 2015 report that there was "little verifiable evidence of the effectiveness of side guards." That report has not been made public.

But municipal politicians, feeling pressure from cycling advocates and other constituents to act, are asking the government to reconsider their stance.

On Wednesday, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson wrote a letter to federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau, calling on the government to make it mandatory for large trucks to have side guards — even though city staff recommended against it earlier this year.

The move comes a week after death of Nusrat Jahan, a 23 year-old student who was pinned under the back wheel of a construction truck in downtown Ottawa.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities will also vote on a motion next week to call on Transport Canada to consider mandating side guards.

958 'vulnerable road users' killed in 14 years

The most recent collision data from Transport Canada shows that 958 "vulnerable road users" were killed in collisions with large trucks and tractor trailers between 2000 and 2013. The number of fatalities includes 617 pedestrians, 191 motorcyclists and 150 bicyclists. 

Side guards are metal bars or panels mounted on the flanks of large trucks to prevent a person from falling into the gap between the front and back wheels during a collision.

Transport Canada researchers looked at studies from the U.S. and abroad, and analysed a sample of more than 80 Canadian fatalities, and concluded there was "little verifiable evidence of the effectiveness of side guards," the agency's media advisor Natasha Gauthier said in an email. 

Gauthier said the research shows three quarters of fatal collisions between heavy trucks, and pedestrians and cyclists, happen in front of the vehicle, while only 22 per cent of the fatal collisions happened on the side.

U.S. numbers show more side-collisions 

Side collisions were more common in a five-year study conducted south of the border.
Side guards are mandatory throughout most of Europe. The metal rails or panels are designed to prevent people from falling in the gap between the truck's front and back tires. (Volpe)

Volpe, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation, analysed more than 1,700 fatal collisions in which large trucks hit cyclists and pedestrians between 2005 and 2009.

The Volpe study found 32 per cent of cyclists and pedestrians hit the side of the trucks first.

Volpe engineer and lead researcher Alexander Epstein said side guards could have saved lives in those cases.

"The principal of a side guard is simple. It's designed to sweep aside the person walking or cycling from the wheel path of the moving truck during a collision, and keep that person from getting run over by the trailing wheels," Epstein said.

This is costing Canadians a fortune — side guards don't.- Jeanette Holman-Price , side guard advocate

Volpe also reviewed collision figures from Great Britain before and after side guards became mandatory.

He found that in Britain, the rate of cyclist deaths dropped 61 per cent, while pedestrian deaths dropped 20 per cent after the British Parliament passed the law in 1986.

Advocates frustrated

Proponents of side guard legislation are getting increasingly frustrated with Transport Canada's stance.

"They (Transport Canada) are costing the lives of Canadians," said Jeanette Holman-Price, who has been lobbying for side guards since the death of her daughter in the Westmount suburb of Montreal more than a decade ago.
Jeanette Holman-Price (right) and her husband Dan Floyd (left). Holman-Price has been lobbying for mandatory side guards on heavy trucks for more than a decade after the death of her daughter Jessica. (Facebook)

In December 2005, Holman-Price's daughter and son were swept under a snow removal truck while it was turning right.

Her daughter 21-year old Jessica was killed, while her then 10-year-old son suffered a brain injury with lasting effects.

"It makes no sense to me why this (side guards) isn't law," says Holman-Price.

She has helped draft two private members bill only to watch them fail to pass under minority Liberal governments and Conservative majority rule. 

Holman-Price said Canadians need to know the total number of people killed and injured in side crashes with heavy trucks.

"People across Canada will then see the absolute volume of this problem — the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars that go into the rehab of survivors, or people like me, who need counseling. This is costing Canadians a fortune — side guards don't."

Ottawa staff nixed side guards in January

Side guards are required by law in Britain, most of Europe, Brazil and China. Although there isn't federal legislation mandating side guards in the U.S. or Canada, a handful of cities have chosen to take action on their own.

New York, Boston, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., along with the Montreal suburbs of Westmount and St. Laurent, and the City of Halifax have passed bylaws requiring municipal trucks to have side guards.

However, other cities, such as Ottawa, continue to cite the lack of support from Transport Canada as a reason not to proceed.
Alexander Epstein, an engineer and researcher at Volpe, says side guards can save lives. (Supplied)

In 2015 the City of Ottawa's transportation committee directed staff to look into making side guards mandatory on the city's larger vehicles, but in January 2016 staff recommended against it, pointing out that most municipalities had opted not to require them, as Transport Canada did not recommend them.

Instead of side guards, Gauthier said Transport Canada believes there is a potential to save more lives if efforts are focused on improving the ability of large commercial vehicle drivers to detect vulnerable road users around their vehicles.

But as Volpe researcher Epstein points out, implementing side guards, and better sensors and mirrors to detect cyclists and pedestrians in blind spots, can be done at the same time to reduce fatalities and the severity of injuries.

"One is to prevent a crash, the other is to mitigate a crash. Having different types of protections increases safety," he said.


Judy Trinh

CBC Reporter

Judy Trinh is an investigative journalist with CBC News. She covers a diverse range of stories from breaking crime news to the #MeToo movement to human rights court challenges. She aims to be both critical and compassionate in her reporting. Follow her on Twitter @judyatrinh