Albert Koehl was on the expert panel of the Chief Coroner’s 2012 pedestrian death review. He is a lawyer and founder of Bells on Bloor. Nancy Smith Lea participated in the 1998 Regional Coroner’s review of cycling fatalities. She is the Director of the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation.
As Toronto looks to spend an additional $22-million to make its roads safer, it’s time to implement life-saving solutions that already exist. Side-guards and sensors for trucks, among other devices and road-design changes, have been proposed before. But despite these recommendations and the release of visionary road safety plans, traffic deaths of people walking and bicycling continue to rise.
During a recent 30-day span, a man and a woman, both in their 50s, riding bicycles in Toronto were killed by large trucks. Similar tragedies in the city are sadly familiar. Over a 10-day period in the summer of 1996, two women on bicycles were killed by trucks in separate events. Public anger over those deaths spurred Toronto’s Regional Coroner to initiate a comprehensive review. Lamentably, the coroner’s recommendations about side-guards on trucks to protect cyclists never went beyond study, even though Ontario’s Chief Coroner subsequently recommended mandatory side-guards for trucks in a 2012 road-safety review.
Collisions involving heavy trucks lead to many fatalities and serious injuries – often under a vehicle’s rear wheels – not only for cyclists but also pedestrians. Eleven of 95 pedestrian deaths reviewed by the Chief Coroner in 2012 involved trucks. This is no surprise given the size and weight of trucks and the vulnerability of humans. The only surprise is the long-standing inaction by all levels of government despite the grim outcomes.
Dalia Chako, a grandmother who loved to bicycle, was killed in broad daylight on June 12 by a flat-bed truck at a Bloor St. intersection crowded with people at the University of Toronto.
The city’s other tragedies involving trucks and bicycles are equally heart-breaking. Among those killed are Douglas Crosbie in May, only weeks before his 25th wedding anniversary; Carla Warrilow, in 2013, a young woman embarking on a promising career; Jenna Morrison, in 2011, five months pregnant and on her way to pick her son up from school; and Ryan Carriere, in 2005, homeward bound to take his children trick-or-treating.
From 2007 to 2017 there were 243 serious collisions involving trucks in Toronto, leaving 61 dead, the majority pedestrians and cyclists. It isn’t just Toronto families that have been left grieving deaths caused by trucks. A young woman on her bike was killed in Montreal on the day before Ms. Chako’s death, while a 79-year old pedestrian died at a crosswalk in Markham, Ont., a week later.
Truck drivers have obvious challenges in safely navigating their multitonne vehicles – navigation that must be accomplished from a perch high above the road with blind spots in the driver’s field of vision.
Among the regional coroner’s recommendations in his 1998 review, which was prompted by Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists, was for Transport Canada to investigate the feasibility of side-guards for trucks in urban areas. The guards are designed to prevent cyclists and pedestrians from falling under a truck’s rear wheels, the scenario in the deaths of Erin Krauser and Martha Kennedy in 1996, and many others. (It’s not yet known whether the rear wheels or another part of the truck killed Ms. Chako.) Victims’ families and advocates have long demanded this safety feature.
In the Chief Coroner’s 2012 pedestrian review he found that in almost half of deaths involving trucks, “the pedestrian impacted the side of the truck, resulting in the pedestrian being dragged, pinned or run over by the rear wheels.”
In his concurrent cycling review, the Chief Coroner relied on a U.K. finding that cycling fatalities resulting from collisions with the side of trucks had been reduced by 61 per cent after the introduction of side-guards.
The Chief Coroner also recommended that Transport Canada consider requiring additional safety equipment, such as blind-spot mirrors and blind-spot warning signs to make pedestrians and cyclists more visible to trucks, especially in right turns.
An Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report earlier this year recommended side sensors and a comprehensive set of mirrors, along with better cab design to improve direct vision. Sensors and related devices also alert the driver to dangers other than from the rear wheels. The report also noted the short-term potential of detection and automatic braking systems being developed in research for Autonomous Vehicles. Indeed, given that there are already cars on the market with collision-avoidance systems, then why not heavy trucks?
The problem of trucks shouldn’t simply be left to Transport Canada. Cities, with provincial co-operation or funding, have an important role.
For starters, cities could ban big trucks from certain areas – or particular streets during hours of high foot and bicycle traffic – a prohibition being introduced in Brussels. Toronto can also follow the lead of London, England, by allowing into the city core only trucks that meet certain safety standards, perhaps as an expansion of our community safety zones. The city can also install side-guards on its own trucks (a matter council voted this week to study) and require guards on trucks operating under contract. In the future, the city’s truck fleet could transition to smaller, better designed vehicles – a strategy already being pursued in San Francisco.
Intersections should also be redesigned to make pedestrians and cyclists more visible to drivers by changing the angle of vehicle turns. Although so-called protected intersections will take time and money, they are part of a complete road-safety solution.
We need more action now to prevent tragedies. Fortunately, there are available solutions. Solutions that will save lives.