John Ducker: Cyclists, truckers must be safety-aware to avoid crashes

Recent high-profile crashes between large trucks and cyclists in B.C. have both cycling advocates and municipal leaders demanding action. On July 5 this year a cyclist was nearly crushed to death at Pandora and Store when two vehicles, spotted on a nearby webcam, seemingly ignored a "no right turn on red" sign. The first car made the turn without conflict.

But the second vehicle, a large cube truck, turned directly into the path of southbound cyclists on Store St who had a green signal. The lead cyclist was knocked to the ground as the truck turned in front of him, then nearly run over by the truck's rear wheels. Fortunately the driver was able to stop in time.

That crash was eerily similar to one, just six days previously, in downtown Vancouver. On June 29 a 28-year-old cyclist was killed when he was crushed underneath the wheels of a large tandem dump truck also making a right turn. Calls for side-mounted safety bars, which help prevent cyclists from sliding under the wheels of a turning truck, quickly ramped up after these two tragic events.

But are safety bars the answer? Unfortunately not. They aren't the silver bullet that more than a few news stories have claimed recently.

Europe, as always it seems, has studied the issue in detail. Analysts there have found that side guard rails on trucks haven't solved the problem. One major EU study showed that fatal cyclist collisions by truck-side impacts only happen 28% of the time.

The majority of cycling fatalities occur from being struck by the front of the truck. Surprisingly, several trucking and cycling experts seem to agree on what other things can be done to prevent these tragedies in the future. For truckers, some industry experts claim that the "blind spot" excuse is just that.

They believe a thoroughly trained driver, in a rig mounting proper mirrors, can see everywhere required. These events happen simply because some drivers can't be bothered to look. Other experts are touting technology solutions such as modified lane changing sensors, adapted for turns.

They would alert a driver, or even stop a truck automatically, if an object enters an alongside danger zone. On the cycling side, experts are pushing that cyclists have to give large trucks way more respect -- and distance. Whether blind spots exist or not, cyclists aren't being seen out there.

Whipping around large trucks, anywhere, is incredibly dangerous at any point -- even if you have your own cycling lane and a green light. As a cyclist, colliding with a vehicle that outweighs you by 75,000 pounds means you will never come out the winner -- ever. Transport Canada, the regulator for the equipment on vehicles, is taking a wait-and-see approach on side guards, citing the lack of causation based on these same European studies.

That's the wrong approach. While side guards aren't going to be the magic fix, saving one life is worth the effort. Right now, though, we must prevent as many of these incidents as possible.

That means that both cyclists and truckers have to apply much better safety awareness toward each other on our increasingly crowded downtown streets. Glove Box: Reader Brian wrote a few weeks ago, frustrated about the dangers of driving with your favourite pet on your lap. We've seen it many times, Buster, BooBoo or Chauncey sitting proud on the driver's lap, the wee head out the window, enjoying the world passing by while savouring that head-on, intoxicating, rush of air.

It's absolute common sense never to do this, yet hardly a week goes by where you don't see a furry best friend in a driver's lap. There's tons of examples in the news about how making Bandit's day led to mishaps, even tragedies. From vehicles crossing centre lines, to veering off the road, to sailing through red lights -- scores of distracted-driving smash-ups are caused by four-legged companions in a driver's lap.

Then there's the part about your best friend caught between your chest and a deploying airbag. Generally, an airbag pops in a crash at speeds as low as 15-20 km/h. Those crash test dummy videos are deceiving.

They make you think airbags gently puff out like a pillow, saving the head and torso. In fact, they deploy in milliseconds with the explosive force of a shotgun blast. Your best friend would be crushed instantly -- not to mention what happens to the human on the other side.

There's no specific law in B.C. that says "keep pets off your lap while you're driving." It's all covered though, by "driving without due care and attention" or "obstructed vision or operation" laws.

They could run you either £368 and six points or £109 and three points respectively.

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