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Boston Bicycle Accident Spurs Truck Side Guard Bills

A "ghost bike" was for months positioned on Commonwealth Avenue, near the St. Paul Street intersection. That's where 23-year-old photojournalism graduate student Christopher Weigl lost his life in a 2012 Boston bicycle accident after he was struck by a truck.

The spray-painted white bicycle, locked to a street sign near the site of the fatal bicycle accident, was a reminder of what was lost, and the fact that action must occur if we hope to prevent it from happening again.

Weigl's brother, Dustin, is seeking a change to Massachusetts law to mandate that trucking companies install protective side guards on certain large vehicles. Dustin Weigl testified recently before the Legislature's Joint Committee on Transportation, his voice cracking, as he explained how these devices - simple and relatively inexpensive to install - likely would have saved his brother's life. Side guards physically cover the exposed space between a large truck's front and rear wheels, preventing pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists from being swept underneath the rear wheels.

There are two bills - one being S. 1810 - that would require the installation of these "lateral protective devices" on every motor vehicle with a gross weight of more than 10,000 pounds, every trailer with an unladen weigh of more than 10,000 pounds and every semi-trailer with a gross weight of more than 26,000 pounds. The exceptions would be:

  • Fire trucks
  • Ambulances
  • Low-speed vehicles
  • Tractors

In a recent City of Boston State Legislative Agenda,  it was noted that between 2010 and 2015, there were 11 people who died in Boston bicycle accidents in crashes with motor vehicles. In seven of those fatal accidents, cyclists were struck by either a truck or a bus.

In October 2014, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh signed a citywide ordinance that requires all large vehicles that are contracted with the City of Boston to be equipped with these enhanced safety features, with the hope being it will significantly reduce the risk of a collision or of bicyclists or pedestrians being dragged underneath these vehicles - where they face a much greater danger.

This is especially problematic when these large trucks and other vehicles make sharp turns. Riders fall underneath the vehicle's rear wheels, and almost always suffer fatal injuries.

The most recent such crash occurred last August, when Anita Kurmann of Cambridge was killed after being struck by a truck at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Beacon Street. That truck did not have side guards, nor was it equipped with convex mirrors, as safety advocates are also hoping to have mandated.

Rear underride guards are mandated by federal law for all truck trailers made after 1998. But those guards really only protect motor vehicle occupants in a rear-end crash.

When the United Kingdom started requiring side under-ride guards on large trucks, they reported a 61 percent decrease in bicycle accident fatalities and a 13 percent decrease in cyclist injuries.

Another element of the proposed state law is the mandated installation of convex blind spot mirrors and cross-over mirrors on large trucks. These would allow operators of large trucks to better see areas to the front and side of their vehicle.

To extend these provisions statewide would reduce such injuries and deaths here in Boston as well because more vehicles moving in and out of the city would be more likely to have these protections.

The bills were filed by Rep. Daniel Hunt (D- Dorchester) and Sen. William Brownsberger (D-Belmont).

Passage of these measures would not only serve to make cyclists safer, it would increase the grounds upon which an injured cyclist or surviving loved one could assert negligence by the truck driver and/or owner. Those who fail to abide by these provisions, if and when they become law, would be negligent in failing to use reasonable care toward others.

Atty. Mark Bixby is a personal injury lawyer at the Law Offices of Mark E. Salomone, serving Springfield and throughout Massachusetts. If you or a loved one has been injured, contact our law firm today.