When it comes to truck safety, the U.S. has some catching up to do
I recently went to Birmingham, England, with a small group of fellow trucking lawyers from around the country to visit the Commercial Vehicle Show. As members of the American Association for Justice’s Trucking Litigation Group’s Side Guard Task Force, our goal was to see how the U.K. approached trucking safety. It being my first trip to the U.K., I was enthralled by the country. One peculiarity that caught my attention was the frequency of cover songs—a singer’s or band’s interpretation of someone else’s song—being played in restaurants. In a way, it was a metaphor for my take on England—very familiar, but it was the nuances and differences from what I was used to that made it more interesting.
The language is the same, but there’s the accent, and certain words have different meanings. Some of it adds a layer of charm (I prefer the automated voice asking me to “alight” the train as opposed to “exiting”), some of it requires an acclimation period (fries aren’t fries, they’re chips, but chips are actually crisps). Good service is good service, but there’s something particularly charming when they bring your coffee in a small porcelain kettle. Mostly, the various cultural spins on the familiar were enjoyable, and have me longing for a return trip. Unfortunately, the differences in how the British handle trucking and trucking safety left me frustrated.
As I mentioned, we were tasked with learning ways to cut down on the number of truck crashes back home. My specific subcommittee deals with preventing pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths caused when trucks literally run them over. What makes these incidents particularly tragic is how easily preventable they are. As trucking lawyers, we know that driver behavior (driving dangerously) is often a primary cause, but the CV Show revealed the significant gap between the U.K. and the U.S. in terms of safety equipment that could prevent or minimize these incidents.
After a spate of trucks killed pedestrians and cyclists, the U.K. began implementing safety requirements for trucks. Most common were increased mirrors and side under ride guards. The mirrors eliminate dangerous blind spots for truckers when making left turns (right turns here). In the event a truck driver still makes a turn into someone, the side under ride guards literally deflect pedestrians or cyclists away from the truck, as opposed to trapping them underneath the turning truck.
But those incredibly modest upgrades are not enough. Vendors throughout the CV Show touted the benefits of front, side, and rear blind spot sensors and cameras. The cameras and sensors visually and audibly alert the truck driver that something or someone is near the truck. This isn’t pie-in-the-sky, far-off technology. Most of us are familiar with it—I have blind spot sensors and a backup camera in one of my cars, and the U.S. will begin requiring backup cameras on all vehicles in a couple years. If we know it’s important enough to require in a typical two-ton car, why aren’t we demanding it for 30-ton tractor-trailers?
There is cause for optimism, though. Some cities, such as Boston, have enacted local laws requiring trucks to be equipped with side guards. We should all be pushing our hometowns and cities to pass similar legislation. Unlike the sensors, mirrors, and cameras, side guards won’t prevent trucks from hitting people. They are, however, very effective at minimizing injuries – or turning would-be deaths into survivable injuries.
The U.K.—both citizens and the trucking industry itself—decided enough was enough when it came to preventable injuries and deaths caused by careless truck drivers. It took action by implanting common sense changes and rules aimed at reducing trucking tragedies. Moreover, the British trucking industry—truck companies, equipment vendors, and even construction companies—not only got on board with the program, but is now driving safety advancements. One of the common phrases I heard from the salespeople at the CV Show was “market-driven.” They understand the myriad benefits of reducing truck vs. pedestrian/bicyclist crashes.
Cultural differences are one of the great reasons to travel. Quirks and customs help define nationalities and ethnicities in wonderful ways. But, like the cover songs I heard throughout my trip, finding the similarities bring comfort via commonality. I missed many of the little English traits when I returned home, but missing them just makes me want to head back for another visit. The glaring exception was the morning after I got home when I saw a truck pass by without side guards. Safety shouldn’t be a “quirk” of our across-the-pond truckers.