Rebecca Lindell, Global News : Monday, November 14, 2011
OTTAWA – The Conservative government is putting the brakes on a cycling safety bill that would see side guards made mandatory for transport trucks, saying it is up to provinces and cities to enact legislation.
The bill, introduced by NDP MP Olivia Chow on Monday, would make it mandatory for all trucks to have side guards, which she says would prevent cyclists and pedestrians from being trapped underneath back wheels of a truck.
“Every year there are Canadians killed needlessly by trucks, by getting under the wheels of trucks. Having side guards would protect them. They may get bruised, but it won’t kill them,” Chow said of the measure that she says could cost between $600 and $2000 per truck.
Chow tabled the bill just a week after Jenna Morrison, a 38-year-old pregnant mother, was killed in Toronto after being clipped by a truck while on route to pick up her five-year-old son.
Hundreds of people attended a memorial ride for Morrison Monday morning, pedaling to the site of the accident to place a white (ghost) bike as a monument to their fallen comrade.
Transport Canada statistics show that 19 per cent of all cyclist deaths were caused by heavy trucks. A total of 41 cyclists died on the road in 2009.
Chow proposed the measure in 2006 and 2010, but it was never passed into law. The proposed law is shaping up to have a similar fate this time around.
A spokesperson for Transport Minister Denis Lebel said the federal government would not mandate side guards, adding that the provinces were “fully capable” of doing so if they deemed it necessary.
“The research that has been done so far does not indicate that side guards would guarantee safety,” said spokesman Pierre Florea in a statement, adding that the government would be open to revisiting the issue if new evidence is presented.
Trucking industry not sold on side guards
Like the Conservative government, the trucking industry says the evidence is too weak to justify modifying nearly 500,000 trailers, most of which never enter urban roads.
“The safety benefits of mandatory installation of side guards are far from clear,” says David Bradley, president of the Canadian Trucking Alliance. “Safety is good business when it comes to the trucking industry, but in this particular case we just don’t think that it is going to work.”
Citing a 2010 study done for Transport Canada by the National Research Council, Bradley said it is not clear side guards won’t necessarily prevent death and injury, but will just change how cyclists are injured or killed.
Instead, he says the trucking industry supports separated bike lanes and better education for drivers and cyclists as the best bet to prevent death and injury.
Advocates of the side guards, including Chow, cite the European experience where the measures have been mandatory for over 20 years. Chow says the number of cyclist fatalities dropped by 61 per cent in Britain in the decade following the addition of mandatory side guards.
Regulations a federal responsibility: province
A 1998 coroner’s report in Toronto also recommended side guards.
It appears as though any changes will have to come from other levels of government. Ontario’s coroner is currently conducting a review into cycling deaths in the province.
But the province insists motor vehicle standards are the responsibility of Transport Canada.
“Transport Canada has decided that they are not going to develop standards for side impact protection or mandatory vehicle side guards for trucks or trailers at this time,” said Bob Chiarelli, Ontario’s transportation minister.
“If Transport Canada chooses to implement a standard for this type of equipment, my ministry will take action to ensure that commercial vehicles operating on the province’s roads are operated in compliance with the federal rules.”
Toronto city council takes aim
In Toronto, city councillors are gearing up to join the fight for strong safety regulation for trucks.
Councillors including Chow’s stepson, Mike Layton, and Glenn De Baeremaeker are working on a motion to request a study on the benefits of side guards and other safety measures. It will be introduced before the end of the month.
“There are hazards out there and there are a number of solutions that are needed,” said De Baeremaeker. “These side guards are just one of the things we need to do.”
Up until now the city has limited authority to do anything directly, according to Councillor Joe Mihevc, who put forward an unsuccessful motion in 2006 for city council to request the federal government mandate side guards.
Still, he says the City of Toronto Act has a “general health and welfare” provision that might stand up to court challenges if the city tried to mandate side guards within city limits.
“What would be required is some creative legal work to make a case for only allowing trucks of this kind through,” he said.
One thing he says he is sure of is that with the growing number of cyclists safety measure like side guards will become a reality someday.
“To be in political life, you are always hopeful,” he says, “I don’t know if we are going to win this one, but sooner or later it will happen.”
© Shaw Media Inc., 2011. All rights reserved.