The findings of a new study draw a direct link between rising rates of pedestrian deaths and injuries, and the risk in popularity of larger sports utility vehicles (SUV), minivans and pickup trucks over the past few decades, which appears to be coming at a cost in human lives.
A report published on July 26 in the journal Economics of Transportation indicates that metropolitan areas which have seen a spike in light truck and SUV traffic have also witnessed a significant increase in pedestrian fatalities.
The author of the study, Justin Tyndall, of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization, reviewed data covering all fatal auto accidents in the US from 2000 through 2019, and examined the change in vehicle fleets across metropolitan areas to identify SUV involved collisions.
According to the findings, the number of light trucks and SUV’s on U.S. roadways tripled from 2009 through 2019. At the same time, vehicle-related pedestrian fatalities increased by 30%.
Tyndall suggests the robust front ends on SUV’s, which tend to sit higher and cause decreased visibility, may be a contributing factor. These higher front ends are more in line with a pedestrian’s upper body, causing more severe and potentially fatal upper body injuries during a crash.
In his findings, Tyndall estimates 8,100 pedestrian deaths would have been avoided if all light trucks were replaced with cars from 2000 to 2019.
A supporting study released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in June 2020, found that growth in popularity of SUVs and crossover vehicles has resulted to a higher rate of pedestrian injuries and deaths. The researchers say changes to SUV front end designs could mitigate some of those pedestrian injuries.
IIHS researchers found pedestrian SUV accidents that occur at speeds over 40 miles per hour have a nearly 100% fatality rate, compared to 7 out of 13 fatalities for passenger cars traveling at similar speeds.
Pedestrian Accidents and Injuries Rising
Pedestrian-related traffic accidents have been on the rise in recent years, with 2019 having the highest number of pedestrian deaths recorded in more than three decades. A recent report by the Governors Highway Safety Administration noted the 2020 calendar year not only saw more pedestrian fatalities, but also experienced a 16.5% reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) nationwide during the first half, due to the pandemic.
The GHSA report found that pedestrian deaths from traffic accidents increased by 4.8% in 2020, and projects the U.S. pedestrian fatality rate per billion vehicle miles traveled jumped to 2.3 deaths, which is an unprecedented 21% increase from 1.9 in 2019.
GHSA specifically noted in the report that the number of SUV involved pedestrian fatalities skyrocketed by 79% in 2020, which supports past research indicating the higher setting front ends of SUVs commonly causes increased trauma to a pedestrian when struck, decreasing the odds of survival following an impact even at lower speeds.
The rising rate of fatal car accidents has become a major focus of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). It released a series of safety recommendations in September 2018, calling for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) to collaborate on efforts to produce better standards to protect pedestrians.