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Canada’s National Research Council Releases Trucking Sideguards Study

Several years ago, the National Research Council Canada commissions and published a study regarding the benefits and feasibility of a truck side guard requirement. The study was commissioned with multiple objectives and goals including understanding the use of lateral protective guards and side underrun protections in other nations. The study was also intended to determine the purported benefits of these side guards regarding protection of other motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, and others. Furthermore, the study was supposed to determine the efficacy of these guards for protective purposes. Furthermore, the study was also commissioned to determine whether any additional benefits, such as improved fuel efficiency, was possible.

Side guards and underride guards have already been legislated as mandatory in some nations in the EU and in Japan. The study was also intended to determine the feasibility of enacting mandatory side guard legislation for all large commercial trucks in Canada’s urban areas and centers. The study analyzed data provided by national accident reporting systems like Federal Accident Reporting System (FARS) in the United States and corresponding systems in Canada, EU nations, the U.K., and Japan.

What Types of Protective Side Guard Devices Exist?

The study recognized that the types of side guards in use on commercial trucks varied by nation and jurisdiction. This was necessitated by the fact that common models of commercial trucks differed by country. Two common models identified by the study included the Mercedes-Benz Atego side guard and the Volvo side guard.  The Mercedes-Benz side guard is an articulated device permitting adjustment and opening/closing along an axis running alongside the vehicle. The Volvo guard is a double-rail guard that can also open and close.

The study identified that the guards were constructed from various materials including steel, aluminum alloys, magnesium alloys, titanium alloys, glass fiber reinforced plastic (GFRP), and carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP).

Are Truck and Trailer Side Guards Effective At Preventing Fatal Injuries?

The study recognized that there was some difficulty in fully assessing guard rail efficacy because a number of jurisdictions lack data due to an absence of mandatory requirements and low rates of voluntary use. However, one U.K. based study did detect major safety benefits when side guards are utilized/ The study found a 61 percent reduction in fatally injured bicyclists, and a 12.8 reduction in the number of cyclists who were seriously injured when guards were employed. The benefits were observed when the initial point of impact between the truck and bicyclist was at the front, nearside of the commercial truck. Pedestrians suffering fatal injuries were reduced by 20 percent when side guards were installed. However, one limitation regarding the benefits of the side guard’s protective features occurred when the point of initial impact was relocated to other areas of the vehicle, therefore, suggesting that the guards are only effective for certain types of collisions.

The study also involved a computer simulation that assessed whether certain models of guards were effective at protecting pedestrians, cyclists, and other vulnerable individuals. The results of the simulation found that a traditional trucking side guard was effective at preventing deaths because it was effective in channeling the pedestrian and his or her vital upper-body organs away from the wheels of the truck. However, the study did find that smooth integrated side guards were less effective at preventing this type of crushing injury. The study generally found significant benefits in regulating the use of trucking side guards in urban environments where pedestrians and other users are present.

For instance, consider that the Canadian data reported that the initial point of impact for fatal trucking accidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists was often the front of the truck (42.9% of the cases for bicyclist fatalities and 45.8% of the cases for pedestrian fatalities.) In the U.S., 48.5 percent of bicyclist fatalities and 71.6 percent of pedestrian fatalities occurred following a frontal impact. If the reductions in the number of fatalities found in the study were to hold, a significant number of lives would be saved each year.

Why Aren’t Side Guards More Commonly Utilized on Trucks?

Based on studies like these, it would seem that a requirement for mandatory use of trucking side rails would be a common sense proposition and even more so in cities and other urban environments. However, there is still no mandatory side guard requirement. While the U.S. does have a rear underride guard standard, this standard is much weaker than the Canadian regulation and is subject to a number of exceptions for certain vehicle types.

However, there are small positive steps in the right direction. In January 2015, Boston became the first city in the nation to require side guards on all city owned or contracted trucks. The Boston ordinance requires covered trucks over 10,000 pounds and tractor-trailers with a combined weight over 26,000 pounds to have side guards that can withstand a force of up to 400 pounds that are no higher than 21.5 inches from the ground. While it is only a small step, hopefully, awareness for the need for a regulation of this type will soon spread.

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