John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
The panels are meant to stop the fatal, crushing trauma associated with getting run over.
Look on the bright side: If you have the misfortune of colliding with one of Seattle’s trucks, you might get knocked off the road, but probably won’t get flattened under its tires.
That’s because the city’s department of transportation is equipping its fleet with side guards, or panels on both sides of a truck that prevent people from getting run over by the back wheels. (This assumes a side collision, not a head-on one.) All large vehicles belonging to the department are getting this treatment, and Seattle is also requiring manufacturers to install them on new vehicles it purchases.
Why’s that? Well, the guards have several benefits, writes the city:
Side guards reduce the risk of serious injury or death by preventing pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcycles from being caught underneath a large truck. According a study in the U.K., fatalities from side-impact collisions with trucks were reduced by 61% for cyclists, and 20% for pedestrians, after side guards were added.
Side guards can also help save on gas by reducing air drag and increasing fuel efficiency.
The guards are not intended as a cure-all for collisions, but mainly to stop the kind of deadly crushing associated with large truck wheels. Half of cyclists killed by big trucks from 2005 to 2009 first made impact with their sides, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. A lot of that might have to do with these vehicles’ considerable blind spots. On longer trucks blind spots can obscure a line of more than 10 cyclists or pedestrians, and make it easy for drivers to inadvertently subsume one underneath the truck.
As for the claim of reducing air drag, the EPA has verified that such guards improve fuel economy by up to 7 percent. Seattle is the latest city, following New York, San Francisco, and Boston, to explore the merits of side guards. Here’s what one of its retrofitted trucks looks like: