Vocational Truck & Trailer

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Side Skirts & Safety Guards

By Mike Whalen

Sometime in the mid-sixties I was driving from Vancouver to Penticton via the Hope-Princeton highway. To the east of Manning Park, I rounded a bend on a steep decline and was motioned to stop by an RCMP Patrolman. Just up ahead was an MGB that had rear-ended a tractor trailer. The car was buried beneath the rear of the trailer, wedged under the tandem axle. Two people had been killed. As I sat there waiting to be guided around the vehicles, I thought how easy it would have been to avoid the fatalities if rear impact guards were mandatory.
A number of years later, thanks in part to the Canadian Transportation Equipment Association, the rear impact guard did become mandatory for trailers.
I can’t help but comment that safety features only happen when required by law and that without a legal requirement, truck buyers will not add the cost of such features.
Trailer side skirts are an example.
When reviewing the advertised value of aerodynamic side skirts, the benefits included a reduction in fuel consumption and emissions. An impact guard feature is not part of the design.
According to Wikipedia, ‘A trailer skirt or side skirt is a device affixed to the underside of a semi-trailer, for the purpose of reducing aerodynamic drag caused by air turbulence. Trailer skirts have been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transport Partnership as a verified aerodynamic technology, eligible for funding under the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act.’
However, as the photo illustrates, the ‘trailer skirt’ does not function as a side impact guard.
There is an identifiable cost saving provided by the side skirt – adding an impact feature would just increase the cost of the trailer.
*“Side guards have been required since the 1980s in the European Union and Japan, and more recently in China, Brazil, and Peru.
The NA trucking industry is recognizing the value of side impact guards for trailers and we now see their availability as an option.
Recently it has been reported that Class 7 & 8 straight truck sales are on the rise!
Seems that side impact guards for straight trucks are a new safety initiative. Several manufacturers now offer side impact systems for straight trucks. Walker Blocker, one manufacturer, is offering a side guard designed to fit all truck body types on Class 3 vehicles and above.
Truck Side Guards are a vehicle-based safety device designed to keep pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists from being run over by the rear tires of a larger truck. Walker Side Guards were designed to block and deflect, preventing deadly road crashes.
*Approximately 15 years ago I was in Germany working with a manufacturer of auto lube systems. While driving on the Autobahn I noticed that the straight trucks and trailers had side impact guards. My associate from the German manufacturer mentioned that this was common practice. The right lane was reserved for trucks travelling at maximum 90km/hr and passing was allowed only if the vehicle in front was travelling at a lower speed. This meant, he said, that the left-hand side of the vehicle was always facing the other two lanes of traffic. He told me his wife worked with a marketing company and that they were about to launch a marketing program called ‘Left Side Marketing’ to use these side guards for display advertising. Seemed like a good way to pay for the installation of side impact guards.

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