Sunday, June 23, 2024

Several trucks used by the Department of Public Works are equipped with backup cameras – or will be soon. (Photo: City of Cambridge)

The city will install backup cameras on 11 rubbish collection trucks and a drain cleaning vehicle that don’t have them now, but officials have not decided whether to add the equipment to approximately 25 dump trucks, spokesman Lee Gianetti said last week.

The hesitation on dump trucks comes because of “use issues as well as concerns about adequate visibility and drivers making erroneous judgements based on cameras impacted because of use issues,” Gianetti said in an email Jan. 9. He said city officials will probably consult on the issue with the Volpe Transportation Center, the federal agency based in Kendall Square.

A young Cambridgeport woman was killed in October 2018 by a private contractor driving his dump truck to a city job. She was run over walking behind the truck while it backed through the intersection of Putnam Avenue and Magazine Street. At the trial of driver Daniel Desroche it was disclosed that the truck had a backup camera that was not working. Desroche was acquitted of vehicular homicide by means of negligent driving; one of the judge’s instructions to jurors was that the lack of an operating camera was not evidence of negligence, because cameras are not required on trucks.

Friends of Jie Zhao, the woman who was killed, have been campaigning to have the cameras required on large trucks. Trucks have big blind spots in front, beside and behind them.

Gianetti said six of the city’s 17 garbage collection trucks already have the cameras and the remaining vehicles will be equipped with them “over the next number of months.” The city includes cameras in its specifications for new rubbish collection trucks, he said.

One of the two drain cleaning trucks has a backup camera and “the expectation is that both trucks will have cameras in place in the near future,” he said.

State legislation proposed

Two bills before the Legislature involve backup cameras on large trucks. One, filed by Sen. Patricia Jehlen of Somerville, would require the Registrar of Motor Vehicles to “consider” requiring backup cameras on large trucks owned or leased by the state. The other, proposed by Rep. Marjorie Decker of Cambridge would require the cameras on trucks owned or leased by the state and municipalities. Zhao’s friends contacted both legislators.

The state cannot require private trucks to have backup cameras because they often cross state lines and are regulated by the federal government.

Jehlen’s measure was added as an amendment to a bill to reduce traffic fatalities; it is now in the House Ways and Means Committee after clearing the Senate. Decker’s bill is in the Joint Committee on Transportation. The committee held a hearing Friday on a number of bills, including Decker’s. No one testified on Decker’s bill, but the committee may have received written comments.

Cameras in use

Research by federal safety agencies, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has found that backup cameras on large trucks prevent injuries, especially to workers in construction zones. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the United Parcel Service uses backup cameras on its trucks and the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration uses the cameras in surface mining operations instead of spotters – workers who stand behind the truck and direct the driver. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health says the cameras work best in combination with a radar system behind the truck that alerts a driver to look at the video screen.

The New Hampshire Department of Transportation tried out backup cameras on five dump trucks and a front-end loader in 2009 and concluded that they “improved safety and operation,” according to a summary of the experiment. The agency said placement of the camera could vary depending on how the trucks were used, and they should be protected from snow. It couldn’t be learned whether the department has installed the cameras on more of its trucks.