A disproportionate number of fatal bicycle collisions involve large trucks. Blind spots and right-hook accidents at intersections are two main culprits. But another reason is the lack of wheel guards.
Wheel guards (also known as sideguards and underride guards) can protect bicyclists from getting dragged under the large wheels. It is one reason the UK and Europe have required their use by law since the 1980’s. Indeed, the Mayor of London wants to take the regulations further:
Fines of £200 will be imposed on lorry drivers whose vehicles are not fitted with basic safety equipment under measures to cut the number of cyclist deaths. The “safer lorry charge” will initially be levied on tipper trucks, cement mixers and refuse lorries without side guards to prevent cyclists being crushed under the rear wheels. Officials say it is likely to be extended to include additional front- and side-view mirrors and electronic sensors to pick up cyclists in the vehicles’ blind spots. The charge will initially be applied to the London region but will be extended to other cities if it saves lives.
The NHTSA has known about the problem for decades, but has done nothing to address the issue. The last major regulation was issued in 1998, but only applied to rear-guards. Rear-guards protect motorists (when they slam into the back of a truck) but don’t do anything for bike/ped safety. And even for motorists, the rear-guard protection doesn’t always help, because the Federal standard is so weak.
The good news: on June 17, 2013 the NTSB issued a safety recommendation for side underride protection, and other safety measures that would benefit bicyclists/peds:
Develop performance standards for visibility enhancement systems to compensate for blind spots in order to improve the ability of drivers of single-unit trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings over 10,000 pounds to detect vulnerable road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, in their travel paths.
Develop performance standards for side underride protection systems for single-unit trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings over 10,000 pounds.
To improve highway vehicle crash compatibility, develop performance standards for front underride protection systems for trucks with gross vehicle weight ratings over 10,000 pounds.
The NTSB report is open and awaiting formal response from the NHTSA.