Report: All New NYC Garbage Trucks Should Have Life-Saving Side Guards

Earlier this month, the city announced a pilot program to add side guards, which prevent people from being dragged under the rear wheels of large vehicles, to 240 trucks in the city fleet. It’s a start, but there are thousands more trucks on NYC streets that need this life-saving equipment.

Making side guards standard equipment for new DSNY trucks would encompass the whole fleet in about seven or eight years. Photo: City of Boston
Making side guards standard equipment at DSNY, as Boston has for its trash trucks, would encompass the whole fleet in about seven or eight years. Photo: City of Boston

A new report from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center lays out an action plan specifically for New York City [PDF], describing a path to expand side guards across the city’s fleet of trucks.

The Volpe Center recommends better data collection by NYPD and the state DMV to study the safety impacts of the city’s pilot program, but the effect of side guards is already clear. After the United Kingdom began requiring them in 1986, the fatality rate for pedestrians hit by the side of a truck fell by 20 percent. For bicyclists, the fatality rate decreased 61 percent.

Trucks make up just 3.6 percent of vehicles on the road in New York City, but they account for 12.3 percent of pedestrian fatalities and 32 percent of bicyclist fatalities, according to city data cited by the Volpe Center. Pedestrians are three times more likely to die after being hit by a truck or bus than by a passenger car. Truck side impacts are particularly deadly for bicyclists. More than 50 percent of cyclists struck by the side of a truck die, mostly after falling beneath the vehicle’s wheels.

The Volpe Center identified 4,734 medium- and heavy-duty trucks as candidates for side guards. These include dump trucks, salt spreaders, trailers, fuel tankers, and other types of trucks operated primarily by the Department of Sanitation, DOT, Parks, the Department of Education, NYPD, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Department of Corrections.

Volpe recommends installing solid panel-style side guards, rather than rail-style guards, and suggests stainless steel or plastic composites rather than aluminum, which is vulnerable to salt corrosion. Street sweepers, fire engines, car carriers, and special-purpose vehicles, such as movable highway barrier “zipper” trucks, would be exempt because side guards are either unnecessary or incompatible.

Of the 4,734 vehicles that could use side guards, half are garbage trucks, mostly operated by the Department of Sanitation. While garbage trucks have about 30 different equipment configurations that could complicate side guard retrofits (Volpe says that the cost of “fitting a single-unit truck with side guards, based on discussions with the identified vendors, ranges from $600 to $2,500”), they are replaced more frequently than other city vehicles, meaning that side guards could become standard equipment relatively quickly.

DSNY acquires about 300 trucks a year on a seven-year lifecycle, shorter than the 10- to 12-year lifecycle for most other municipal vehicles. Volpe has been in touch with executives from Mack Trucks, a division of Volvo and a major municipal truck supplier, about including side guards on new trucks purchased by the city. If side guards become standard equipment on DSNY garbage trucks, the department’s fleet could be fully equipped within eight years.

While the city’s fleet is substantial, the number of private trucks operating on NYC streets is much larger. And without a federal mandate, city or state-level requirements for side guards could be ignored.

There are some opportunities, however, to create effective side guard requirements for private trucks. Boston, for example, requires side guards on all private trucks under contract for city business. Here in New York, private trash haulers vastly outnumber the DSNY fleet. While DSNY has about 2,200 garbage trucks, private carters have about 8,300 trucks on city streets.

Just as the Bloomberg administration sought tougher air pollution rules for private carters, the de Blasio administration could propose tougher safety requirements. A review of traffic fatalities in the mid-1990s showed that private haulers killed pedestrians and cyclists at “an astonishingly high rate,” far higher than Department of Sanitation drivers [PDF].

The private carting industry has publicly endorsed Vision Zero. Now it’s time to add something a bit more substantial than a bumper sticker to those vehicles.

This post has been updated with a new photo.

  • Jonathan R

    When are the private carters going to stop having their workers holding onto the back of the truck and let them ride in the cab? When are the private carters going to install dashboard cameras to force their drivers to stop at red lights and stop signs? Maybe then we can believe that they will endorse Vision Zero.

  • BBnet3000

    This needs to happen as soon as possible. The only question is how many people will die before we bother. It’s got to be the City government for now, as the state legislature is useless and Cuomo doesn’t care about anybody who doesn’t get around the city in a 1970 GTO.

    I propose a new Vision Zero mantra: No more pilots, no more studies, no more wasted time and ended lives.

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