Study: Tall Trucks, SUVs are 45% Deadlier in US Pedestrian Crashes

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The latest research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reveals that trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) with hood heights surpassing 40 inches are associated with a 45% higher likelihood of causing fatalities in pedestrian crashes compared to shorter vehicles with sloped hoods. This study, drawing from data on nearly 18,000 crashes, sheds light on the specific risks posed by vehicles with taller hoods, a characteristic shared by some of the best-selling and most lucrative vehicles in the United States, including the Ford Super Duty pickup and the Cadillac Escalade.

Previous studies have already established a connection between SUVs and pickups and elevated fatality risks in pedestrian accidents. However, this new research zeroes in on the implications of vehicles with hood heights exceeding 40 inches. Tall, squared-up hoods are a distinctive feature of several popular and profitable models, making this study particularly relevant to the current automotive landscape.

The concerning findings come amid a troubling surge in pedestrian deaths, outpacing the overall increase in U.S. traffic fatalities since the easing of pandemic lockdowns. In 2021 alone, pedestrian fatalities rose by 13% to 7,342, reaching the highest levels since 1981. Similarly, bicycle-related deaths increased by 5% to 985, the highest since at least 1975, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Pedestrian deaths have seen an alarming 80% increase since their lowest point in 2009, now accounting for 17% of all traffic-related fatalities. The IIHS, though lacking regulatory authority, holds significant influence in both the insurance industry and regulatory circles such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The study further categorizes the risks associated with different vehicle designs. Vehicles with tall and blunt fronts, such as large pickup trucks, are found to be 43.6% more likely to cause pedestrian fatalities. Those with tall and sloped hoods face a 45% higher risk, while medium-height vehicles with blunt front ends, exemplified by models like the Mazda CX-9 SUV or Chevrolet Colorado pickup, are nearly 26% more likely to result in pedestrian deaths.

The IIHS proposes potential solutions to mitigate these risks, suggesting that automakers can enhance pedestrian safety by designing vehicles with lower and more sloped front ends. Additionally, the study recommends that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration consider evaluations that factor in the increasing hood heights and blunt front ends of the vehicle fleet in the New Car Assessment Program or regulations.

The research underscores the broader context of evolving vehicle standards, noting that U.S. fuel efficiency regulations administered by the NHTSA have incentivized automakers to produce larger vehicles. The study implies that these larger vehicles, often associated with increased pedestrian fatality risks, may be a consequence of regulatory frameworks that prioritize fuel efficiency targets over safety considerations.

Against the backdrop of a perceived crisis in rising traffic deaths, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has labeled the situation as such. In response, the Biden administration has allocated $800 million to infrastructure improvements aimed at enhancing both vehicle and pedestrian safety. The findings of the IIHS study may contribute to the ongoing dialogue about shaping automotive regulations and design standards to prioritize safety, especially for vulnerable road users like pedestrians.

Source: Reuters


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