After Alice Swanson was killed in a collision with a trash truck in 2008, DC passed the Bicycle Safety Enhancement Act of 2008. One requirement of that act was to "Equip all District-owned heavy duty vehicles with side-underrun guards to prevent bicyclists, other vehicles, or pedestrians from sliding under rear wheels"
But in the nearly 6 years since then none of the District's heavy duty vehicles have been so equipped. The primary reasons for this is that money has never been provided for it. (see update below) I've argued for some time that not only is the District putting cyclists and pedestrians at risk, but they've placed themselves in a legally risky position by saying that these safety devices are needed but haven't installed them. If, heaven forbid, someone were to be hurt, this could be evidence held against DC in a civil case (though my lawyer wife has told me that it might not be, since the courts would not want to disincentivize the city from discussing safety enhancements or planning for them).
Well, Systemic Failure recently reported that the NTSB has made a set of recommendations about safety and tractor-trailer trucks.
The NTSB proposed measures to reduce blind spots, and a requirements for side guards on new vehicles. The good news is that the NTSB has now officiallyadopted those safety measures.
The NHTSA has 90 days to respond to the NTSB safety recommendation.
The NTSB review noted that
the most common impact location among cyclist fatalities was the right side of the tractor-trailer (40 percent)
But it doesn't seem that the underride protection systems are being proposed with cyclists and pedestrians in mind, but rather passenger vehucle occupants. Still, if this requirement is adopted it should start to make trucks in the DC area safer.
It gets even better, as another requirement being proposed is for blind-spot cameras, which I've also advocated for; and in this case NTSB thinks they will directly relate to cyclists. NTSB writes
Specific technologies to alert drivers of tractor-trailers about other vehicles traveling in
their blind spots are already on the market. The side view assistance system has sensors that monitor the blind spot in the adjacent lane and provides an audio warning if there is a vehicle in the blind spot after the driver signals an intention to change lanes. This technology has been reported to be particularly promising as a means of reducing truck/vehicle collisions. In addition, rear vision assistance systems, consisting of cameras and monitors, allow drivers to see pedestrians and passenger vehicles present in the rear blind spot while drivers are backing their vehicles.
The NTSB concludes that onboard systems and equipment that can allow tractor-trailer
drivers to better detect passenger vehicles, motorcyclists, pedestrians, and cyclists are available and that the use of such systems could prevent fatalities and injuries that occur in collisions involving tractor-trailers. The NTSB recommends that NHTSA require that newly manufactured truck-tractors with GVWRs over 26,000 pounds be equipped with visibility enhancement systems to improve the ability of drivers of tractor-trailers to detect passenger vehicles and vulnerable road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.
All of which is good news that should save lives.
Update: I got an email from someone at DPW and they informed me that starting at the beginning of this year all new vehicles purchased include guards. Existing vehicles are of two types: (1) trash packer vehicles and (2) other vehicles. The trash packers recently received a third axle (see image below) which prevents any person from getting under the truck and thus functions similar to an underrun guard. Other vehicles will be not be retrofitted, but will be replaced with vehicles with the underrun guards. Fantastic.
Update 2: Not content to wait for replacement, DPW is following the actions of Portland, OR and fabricating their own add-on guards in their shop and then installing them on the existing fleet truck-by-truck. Of the 162 trucks, 23 now have a guard installed, with more to follow.