The Ottawa Police Service recently issued a news release promoting the “Stay Safe, Stay Back” campaign. At it’s core, this campaign is nothing more than an effort to legitimize the notion that large trucks aren’t responsible for their blind spots. It’s something the trucking industry has been pushing for a number of years.
Maybe you have seen the posters and videos put out by the trucking industry showing a whole slew of cyclists that are carefully situated around a large truck in its blind spots. The poster or video pronounces that none of these cyclists are visible to the driver. The underlying message is clear – truckers aren’t responsible in these situations, and it’s the cyclists who are putting themselves in danger by not staying out of these areas.
In reality, what is really being shown is that these trucks are poorly designed and ill equipped to be operated safely. Designs with raised cabs maximize cargo space, but place the drivers high up where they have a limited view immediately around their trucks. Moreover, many trucks lack the necessary mirrors to fully see what is happening on either side of the vehicle. In this day and age of the omnipresent video camera, trucks could be equipped with such devices to allow drivers to see all their blind spots.
Rather than work to correct these shortcomings, the trucking industry has engaged in a classic campaign of blame the victims, or the potential victims. They are trying to instill in people’s minds that trucks are entitled to these blind spots, and that anyone who enters these areas does so at their own peril. Incrementally, they are working to convince society at large (the police, the justice system, the media, and, of course, the general population) that somehow truckers have a non-existent, or a greatly reduced, duty of care to cyclists in these blind spots.
Unfortunately, the trucking industry seems to be getting a lot of buy-in with their message. Judging from those supporting the “Stay Safe, Stay Back” campaign, groups that seem to agree with their message include the Ottawa Police Service, the City of Ottawa, and, believe it or not, two bicycle advocacy organizations: the Share the Road Cycling Coalition and Citizens for Safe Cycling. In fact, the city is even helping to spread the message by handing out stickers that truckers can affix to their vehicles warning cyclists to stay out of their blind spots.
Needless to say, there are other ways of dealing with the dangers trucks pose to cyclists. A few years ago, London, England, made it mandatory that large trucks have the necessary mirrors to allow drivers to fully see what’s happing around their vehicles. In fact, London will soon be banning older trucks with poor visibility for the drivers. The Mayor of London has sorted out what is really happening when he says “I’m not prepared to stand by and let dangerous lorries [trucks] continue to cause further heartbreak and tragedy on London’s roads.” And when it comes to making things safer, the trucking industry does have options. Truck manufacturers do make models with low cabs that provide drivers with a much better view of their surroundings.
It’s worth noting that a campaign similar to the “Stay Safe, Stay Back” initiative was cancelled in England amid criticism that it was setting up cyclists for victim blaming. Also, the stickers warning cyclists to stay back that were supposed to be affixed to trucks and buses in London were showing up on cars as an anti bike statement.
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