Spring Forward: Legislative Update on Truck Safety and Underinsured Motorist Reminder

By Ron Gluck

Attorney Ron Gluck is a member of the Charles River Wheelers. He wrote this article for the club's newsletter, WheelPeople, May 2021.

Last year at this time I wrote a column about underinsured motorist coverage (UIM). This coverage accompanies all motor vehicle insurance policies in Massachusetts.  It covers cyclists and pedestrians in the household of the insured driver if they are injured when hit by a motor vehicle while cycling, jogging or walking. In my column I emphasized that without high limits for UIM coverage injured cyclists could end up in financial difficulty, if not disaster, if they were hit by minimally insured drivers.

I am starting this year's column by reemphasizing that point because I have been presented with cases recently in which cyclists were seriously injured by minimally insured drivers AND did not have adequate UIM coverage on their own vehicles to protect themselves. In some cases, the cyclists were under insured because they had not reviewed their automobile insurance policy for many years.  They disregarded renewal letters that were sent to them by their insurance companies year after year, and maintained the same levels of  underinsured motorist coverage in spite of the fact that their life circumstances had changed. They insured themselves well for liability, in the event that they injured someone with their car, but failed to buy sufficient underinsured motorist coverage that would protect them if they were seriously injured while they were riding a bike or walking across a street.  I hope that this reminder will motivate people to review their automobile insurance policies to determine whether it makes sense for them to increase their levels of UIM coverage so that if an unfortunate accident occurs, they will be protected from financial hardship.  And remember, it is inexpensive coverage. The link to last year’s column can be found below.  Please contact me if you have any questions about this type of coverage. Click here for column.

State and Federal Legislative Update

Massachusetts lawmakers have been presented with proposed legislation, which, if passed into law, would provide additional protection to bicyclists who are involved in collisions with large trucks.

“An Act to Reduce Traffic Fatalities” would require state- contracted trucks to be outfitted with safety sideguards, crossover mirrors, convex mirrors and blind spot decals to reduce the risk of cyclists being swept underneath the tall carriage of large vehicles.  These sideswipe truck accidents are often fatal for cyclists and pedestrians. The convex mirrors would expand the truck driver’s view of cyclists. The version of the bill proposed to the House of Representatives would also require use of backup cameras.  The bills are HD.1888 and SD.1613.

Legislation to require sideguards on trucks has been proposed in Massachusetts on prior occasions. In 2014, the City of Boston passed the first sideguard ordinance in the nation. The ordinance requires truckers with contracts with the City of Boston to equip their trucks with sideguards, crossover mirrors, convex mirrors and blind-spot awareness decals.

These legislative proposals came about as direct result of fatalities and serious injuries in Massachusetts and other states around the country.  My involvement in several cases where this has occurred revealed a disturbing tendency of police departments which investigated the accidents to place primary blame on the cyclist. The reason most frequently given is that the cyclist put him or herself in a position where the truck driver could not see them: the trucker’s blind spot. These cases typically involve large trucks making right turns when the cyclist is on the right side of the truck. If the safety enhancements which would be required if the legislation passes were present on the trucks, and IF the drivers made use of all of them, the injuries and deaths may very well have been avoided.

The legislation that is proposed applies only to trucks that are operating under a contract with the state.  The most effective legislation would be analogous to seat belt legislation which became federal law in 1966 and required all manufacturers to equip cars with seat belts or air bag legislation that passed in 1998 which required all vehicle manufacturers to equip cars and light trucks with airbags.

Federal legislation has been introduced to strengthen standards intended to prevent deadly underride accidents involving tractor- trailers and straight trucks. The Stop Underrides Act would require underride guards on the sides and front of all new trucks.  Under current federal law underride guards are only required to be on the back of a truck. The trucking industry and trailer makers expressed concern previously when similar bills were introduced in 2017 and 2019 about issues such as cost and weight.  The legislation would not apply to trucks currently in existence.  It will be interesting to track this legislation during the current congressional term.

As I have written in the past, the safest way to avoid serious injuries or worse from a collision with a truck is to stay away from them whenever possible.  Assume that the driver cannot see you. Often the trucks are not equipped with sufficient mirroring to reduce the dangers of blind spots.  In addition, truck drivers sometimes fail to properly check to make sure cyclists are not on the right side of the truck before making right turns.  Protect yourself and avoid these situations whenever possible.

Stay well and safe riding!

If you have questions about a particular incident or more generally about the subject matter of this column, feel free to contact Ron Gluck at gluck@bwglaw.com.

Ron Gluck is a founder and principal at Breakstone White and Gluck in Boston. Throughout his 35 year legal career Ron has represented seriously injured individuals in a variety of cases including cycling accidents involving catastrophic injury and wrongful death. Ron is a CRW member.

Attorney Ron Gluck is a member of the Charles River Wheelers. He wrote this article for the club's newsletter, WheelPeople, May 2021.