Sport utility vehicles (SUVs) come in handy – they make it easy to lug around groceries and kids, can stand some off-roading and may even score some pretty decent gas mileage if you have a newer model. However, these perks also come with a huge downside: People walking have a greater chance of dying when they are hit by SUV drivers.
It’s easy to understand why. When a person is hit with a standard-sized car, they are typically struck around their legs, not putting vital organs directly at risk. But, an SUV’s huge front end makes impact with the upper body/chest region, which is more likely to cause fatal injuries. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety calculated an 81 percent increase in single-vehicle pedestrian fatalities involving SUVs from 2009 to 2016. Another report by the Free Press/USA Today showed a 69 percent increase in SUV involvement in pedestrian collisions. So, while drivers of SUVs only make up 33 percent of pedestrian injuries, they make up 40 percent of deaths.
Now that there is statistical data about car size, what role do car makers and safety regulators have in preventing collisions? There are a variety of options to help curb this deadly trend. The first step is to acknowledge the role that SUVs play in pedestrian fatalities. Then, automakers, government agencies, local governments and other groups can work together to save lives.
Federal safety regulations
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) made the connection between SUVs and pedestrian fatalities in 2015 and announced a plan to overhaul its vehicle-safety rating system to include a new score for pedestrian safety. These changes have stalled and nothing new has been implemented. If this score was factored into vehicle safety ratings, automobile manufacturers would focus more on safety features that keep people walking safe.
The NHTSA has not given a statement regarding the stalls but told the Free Press/USA today that it is “working on a proposal for a standard that would require protection against head and leg injuries for pedestrians impacted by the front end of vehicles.” They plan to meet about this topic in sometime in 2018, but nothing is currently scheduled.
Researchers at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center have found that the use of pedestrian crash avoidance/mitigation systems and features such as automatic emergency braking, could reduce up to 5,000 vehicle-to-pedestrian crashes and 810 fatal crashes per year.
Right now, there is no requirement in the U.S. for automakers to use safety features such as the automatic braking feature. So, while some car companies utilize these options, many do not. In Europe, taking the extra steps to prevent collisions is the standard. Because pedestrian safety is a key rating component, European automakers are working hard on new technology that both prevents collisions and lessens the impact should a collision occur.
Pedestrian collisions and fatalities are preventable. In order to reverse these tragic trends, federal regulators and car manufacturers must use the information found in these reports to come up with solutions.
Read more about this topic in this eight-chapter report from the Detroit Free Press.