Canada's transport regulator is rejecting the Ontario chief coroner's call to make side guards mandatory on big trucks, a recommendation the province's top death investigators believe would save lives.
The push for side guards, which help prevent pedestrians and cyclists from falling under a truck after a collision and getting crushed beneath its rear wheels, was part of 14 recommendations made Monday to bolster bike safety in a sweeping review of 129 Ontario cycling deaths since 2006.
The coroner's office has asked Transport Canada to study the effectiveness of side guards before (the first time in 1998), but it had never called for a regulation until now. Deputy chief coroner Dan Cass, who led the cycling review, believes there's enough evidence to show the barriers reduce injuries and deaths.
Of the fatalities examined in the coroner's review, 18 involved a collision with a heavy truck, with half of the cyclists dragged, pinned or run over by the rear wheels after slamming into the truck's side. A side guard could have dramatically changed the outcome for these riders, Dr. Cass said.
"We looked at the data that were out there ... and there's good evidence from the United Kingdom that they're going to prevent deaths and save lives," he added. "There's some value to side guards in other ways, too. It can actually improve the aerodynamics of some of the trucks."
Transport Canada, which is responsible for regulating the design of new trucks, has looked at the same studies and statistics but has come to a different conclusion. The national regulator believes there's not sufficient evidence to suggest side barriers significantly improve safety.
"Based on the data and knowledge Transport Canada currently possesses, the department will not be proceeding with a regulation mandating side guards at this time," Transport Canada spokeswoman Kelly James said in response to the coroner's recommendation.
While the federal government doesn't plan to move ahead with side guards, it will examine the coroner's report, Ms. James noted.
"This may help inform our approach to improving the safety of all vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists) in general," she said in an e-mail.
Side guards have been mandatory on most trucks in Europe since the late 1980s, but Canada's trucking industry doesn't support requiring them here, contending other measures, such as adding bikes and improving safety education, are more effective.
Provincial and municipal governments have the power to regulate trucks and trailers that travel within their boundaries, but none has drafted rules to require side guards. Some have argued it would be difficult to regulate on their own, as many trucks travel throughout the country. A few, such as Newfoundland and a handful of communities in that province and Quebec, have outfitted their government-owned truck fleet with side guards.
The Ontario government has not pushed for side guards in the past, but may rethink its position as result of the coroner's recommendation, Transportation Minister Bob Chiarelli noted.
"We will very seriously consider advocating with the federal government that they change the requirements to enable [side guards]," the minister said.
The province is developing a cycling strategy that it plans to release this summer after it reviews the coroner's report, which includes proposals for establishing a one-metre rule for vehicles passing cyclists and making helmets mandatory for riders of all ages.
On side guards, Darlene Burke believes it's time for Canada to act. The safety barrier, many believe, could have prevented her daughter's death.
An avid cyclist, Jenna Morrison was on her way to pick up her five-year-old son from school when her bike collided with a truck turning right on a major Toronto street last November. Ms. Morrison, who was five months pregnant, fell under the truck and was crushed beneath its rear wheels.
"We really need the side guards now, not in 10 years," her mother said over the telephone, her voice choking with emotion.
"We need them now to protect other people. I just don't want anyone to go through what we've had to go through. Her husband, her child, her mom, it just turned our world upside down."