Mayor Rahm Emanuel is taking the first concrete step toward his ambitious goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2026.

Starting on July 1, 2018, construction companies awarded city contracts and subcontracts valued at $2 million or more must install safety-enhancing equipment on all large vehicles with gross weights exceeding 10,000 pounds.

The ordinance introduced by the mayor at this week’s City Council meeting identifies equipment to be installed at contractor expense as:

  • Left- and right-side convex mirrors. The wide-angle mirror allows the driver of a large vehicle to “see along the left and ride sides of the vehicle by allowing a view of all points on an imaginary horizontal line three feet above the road and one foot outside the plane defined by the outer face of the wheels,” the ordinance states.
  • At least one crossover mirror on the passenger side. A crossover mirror is “mounted on the fender or hood and enables the driver to see any person or object at least three feet tall passing one foot in front of the vehicle along with the area from the front bumper to where direct vision is possible.”
  • Lateral protective devices. A vehicle meets this requirement if equipped with side guards “in accordance with requirements of the Volpe side guard standard.” Vehicles would meet this rule if their design, shape or equipment essentially replaces or functions as vehicle side guards.

Side guards can help prevent someone from being swept under the rear wheels of a truck. | U.S. Department of Transportation photo

The “Volpe side guard standard” refers to guidelines set by the Volpe Center of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The regulations would be phased in over a four-year period, with a contractor’s entire fleet compliant by July 1, 2022.

Annual progress reports, including photographs of large vehicles with the safety equipment, would be required, and the city would conduct annual inspections.

The city also intends to lead by example, retrofitting its fleet of large vehicles with similar safety enhancing equipment by 2026. The only exceptions would be ambulances, fire apparatus, vehicles with maximum speeds under 15 mph and agricultural trailers.

Requiring safety equipment on large vehicles was a relatively small part of the so-called “Vision Zero” plan.

A lot more attention was paid to installing more speed cameras; lowering speed limits in the Central Business District and the West Loop; reducing traffic lanes; conducting enforcement missions and shifting to designs that make streets safer for pedestrians. But City Hall and the Active Transportation Alliance believe improving truck safety is pivotal to fighting an epidemic of traffic crashes that has created “a public health crisis” with an inordinate impact on poor people and minorities.

According to the Chicago Department of Transportation, 33 pedestrians and cyclists have been mowed down by large vehicles on Chicago streets since 2010. If a truck is involved in a crash, the chance of a fatality triples.

Even more troubling, crashes involving large vehicles have skyrocketed in recent years. Trucks were involved in 21 percent of bike crashes during the four-year period ending in 2014. Last year, it was up to 67 percent.

“There was a string of six traffic fatalities last summer between June and September, and every one of those fatalities involved a commercial vehicle,” said Kyle Whitehead, government relations director for the Active Transportation Alliance.

“Research is clear that, if these side guards are on trucks, the likelihood of people biking or walking who collide with that truck avoiding a serious injury goes way up. And the mirrors can help prevent a crash . . . by improving sight lines for the driver so they can see people walking and biking as they’re approaching the truck.”

Whitehead said he hopes many contractors comply even before the end of the four-year phase-in period.

“That requires having pro-active conversations with folks in the industry and having private sector leaders step up and say, ‘We’re gonna do this now because we know it’s gonna make our vehicles safer,’ ” he said.