Toronto cyclist accident: Ontario coroner calls (again) for side guards on trucks; Ottawa says no

Oct. 16, 2013 –  Global News

Ontario’s coroner renewed calls for mandatory side guards on trucks Wednesday, hours after a 25-year-old woman was crushed almost to death beneath the wheels of a truck in downtown Toronto.

But the federal government has no plans to change the rules: Not enough evidence this would save lives, Transport Canada says.

It isn’t yet clear how the cyclist collided with, and was subsequently caught and dragged by, the truck near the corner of Dundas and Spadina. She was trapped for several minutes before paramedics could free her and rush her to hospital; she sustained serious lower-body injuries.

This isn’t the first time: Two years ago, 38-year-old Jenna Morrison was clipped by a truck turning right near the corner of Dundas and Sterling in Toronto’s west end, and pulled under its back wheels. She had been en route to pick up her son Lucas; a friend passing by shortly after recognized the mangled remains of the toddler’s extend-a-bike.

A 2010 National Research Council report called for mandatory side guards on trucks to prevent accidents like these. The idea is to keep cyclists, pedestrians, scooters and other smaller entities from being dragged underneath the belly of a truck.

A 2012 Ontario Coroner’s report investigating cyclist deaths recommended mandatory side guards on heavy trucks, arguing that there’s ample evidence this would save lives.

A report on pedestrian deaths also recommended side guards.

When a similar policy was implemented in the United Kingdom, fatalities from accidents where cyclists were struck by the sides of trucks dropped 61 per cent.

“Enough study’s been done. … There’s evidence that, if you implement side guards right now, it would be saving lives,” Dan Cass, Ontario’s Deputy Chief Coroner for investigations, said in an interview.

Transport Canada disagrees.

“Based on research, Transport Canada has found that side guards have not proven to have safety benefits,” reads an emailed statement from spokesperson Roxane Marchand. “Other countries including the US and Australia have reviewed this issue and not found substantial safety benefits. They have also not mandated side guards.”

(The Ontario Coroner’s report states that, in addition to the European Union and Japan, several U.S. jurisdictions – including Washington, DC – have made side guards mandatory)

Transport Canada’s Marchand noted that there’s nothing stopping cities or provinces from making these rules on their own.

Ontario Transport Minister Glen Murray has said side guards are “something I am committed to looking into further.”

NDP MP Olivia Chow, whose Trinity-Spadina riding includes the location of Wednesday’s accident, has long pushed for side guard requirements.

“I don’t know how many more cyclists and pedestrians need to be trapped, seriously injured or die under the wheels of trucks,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “Side guards on trucks save lives. … All [Transportation] Minister Lisa Raitt has to do is, stroke of a pen, change the regulation – it doesn’t even need a legislative change; it doesn’t have to come to the House of Commons. She can do it tomorrow. She can do it today.”

It costs $850 to install a sideguard on a truck, Chow said.

But the issue’s further complicated by two types of vehicle underbelly protection: “Side guards” are essentially horizontal rails running parallel to the vehicle’s underside; a “side skirt” is a solid shield running the length of the vehicle. The former has been proven to save lives but doesn’t save truckers money by making vehicles more aerodynamic; the latter will save fuel costs, but hasn’t yet been proven to save lives (although logically the same rules apply).

Chow isn’t yet sure whether she’ll try to resurrect her private member’s bill calling for mandatory side guards Canada-wide.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

“It’s hard for us to imagine what’s more important than saving lives,” Cass said.

He agrees this isn’t the only solution, and the benefit of side guards is “not universally accepted as fact.” But it’s tough to hear about grisly accidents like Wednesday’s collision after having made recommendations to stop that from happening.

“Yeah, it is frustrating whenever we see someone who loses their life or sustains a serious injury and we think this might have been prevented by the implementation of some of the recommendations that have already been made. We’re just hopeful that, with time, these things will move forward.”

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