It used to be that sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) were fancier versions of pick-up trucks, big, hulking vehicles for carrying tools, fishing tackle, horse tack and the like. Utility was a big selling point – and it sill is today – though the SUV has evolved in recent years into the modern version of a family station wagon, used to haul kids, their sporting gear and friends, and bags of mulch.
Many SUVs have also evolved into lighter, less bulky crossovers designed with lower bumpers that reduce the danger to people in other vehicles in collisions.
Crossovers, SUVs and pick-ups now dominate new vehicle sales, a fact easily verified with a quick glance at Charlotte’s streets.
Unfortunately, America’s big appetite for big vehicles has an unintended consequence: a sharp rise in fatalities in pedestrian accidents.
Pedestrian fatalities rose 53 percent from 2009 to 2018 (the most recent year for which data is available), which means pedestrians account for about 20 percent of all vehicle-related fatalities.
A recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) points to the popularity of SUVs as a contributing factor in the surge in pedestrian deaths.
The IIHS says SUVs cause 7 percent more serious injuries than passenger cars when the vehicles strike pedestrians at speeds above 19 mph. When vehicles strike at speeds between 20 and 39 mph, 25 percent of pedestrians struck by cars died, compared to 30 percent of pedestrians killed when struck by SUVs.
Even greater disparity
The disparity is even greater at higher speeds, the IIHS said. All pedestrians struck by SUVs in collisions at speeds of 40 mph or above died, versus 54 percent of pedestrians killed when hit by cars at those speeds.
IIHS statistician Sam Monfort said, “the proportion of SUVs in the U.S. fleet has grown dramatically, so it’s discouraging that they still seem to be more deadly to pedestrians than cars are.”
The research points to the front-end designs of SUVs, which tend to be taller and squarer than cars. Experts say it’s possible that pedestrian airbags and other emerging technologies already in use in Europe on some models will protect pedestrians in the near future. The IIHS estimates that those mitigation systems could reduce pedestrian crash severity by up to 65 percent.