One Way to Reduce Truck Terrorism: Design Less Dangerous and Deadly Trucks and Make Them Hard to Get

©. JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

Terrorists don't rent Honda Civics for this kind of thing.

Since Bastille Day in Nice last year, vehicles, mostly trucks, have become the terrorist weapon of choice, killing in London, Berlin, Vienna, Barcelona, Edmonton, Charlottesville, and now New York City. It's easy to see why this has caught on, especially in Europe where it is hard to get guns. Vehicles are also really good at killing people, as everybody knows; nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in the USA alone last year, though usually not on purpose. There is nothing new about cars killing people in huge numbers.

Jason Burke of the Guardian noted after an earlier attack (my emphasis):

The means used by terrorists are often determined by availability. So in the US, powerful firearms are often employed. Elsewhere, other weapons are used. In China, knives have featured in mass-casualty attacks.

That may well be why a truck was used here; in New York, they are probably easier to get a hold of than guns. A lot of buildings in New York are now protected by bollards, but they were designed to prevent car and truck bomb attacks. In most cases they do not protect "soft targets" where people gather. Adam Taylor wrote earlier in the Washington Post:

The abundance of soft targets means that protecting them all is difficult, if not impossible. After the attack in Germany, Berlin Police Chief Klaus Kandt told reporters that bollards and other obstacles could not completely prevent an attack. “There are an almost unlimited number of soft targets, that’s simply the fact, so there are many possibilities to kill people with a truck.”

It would be like putting bulletproof vests on every American to stop shootings; the better approach is to deal with the weapon. And since there is no second amendment protecting vehicles, there are actually things that can be done.

That might be a bit extreme.

Trucks and SUVs are deadly by design, and kill the people hit by them at a far higher rate than cars. You don't see anyone renting a Prius if they are planning this kind of thing. So the first thing to do is to design better trucks, and apply the same safety standards as are applied to cars. And use the European standards that most cars are designed to meet. Make them as safe as cars.

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. Duncan Creamer via Flickr "Protest Art"

Duncan Creamer via Flickr "Protest Art"/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Trucks and SUVs are also harder to drive than cars; many collisions are caused by sheer incompetence of the driver. One way to reduce the number of them on the road is to have a different licensing regime with much tougher tests and higher registration fees.

truck route


Trucks and SUVs were designed to be utility vehicles, not family haulers. They were designed for work. So they should be licensed as work vehicles and subject to restrictions; in New York City, big trucks are only allowed on certain roads unless they are going to a specific work site. Perhaps the same should apply to light trucks and SUVs.

There is also the technological solution; GPS could control speed governors to prevent any car or truck from going over 20 MPH. There is no need or purpose in having them go any faster than that in the city.

The means used by terrorists are often determined by availability.

So a solution to the problem of vehicular terrorism is the same solution that we have been proposing to reduce the number of deaths of pedestrians and cyclists all along: Make SUVs and trucks as safe as cars or get them off the road. It is a vehicle design problem. Or if you are going to still allow a more dangerous design of vehicle, give it a tougher licensing regime. Reduce their availability to those who actually need them and regulate the hell out of them.