Growing Height of SUV and Truck Hoods Linked To Greater Risk of Pedestrian Deaths: Study
A new study indicates that pedestrians face a greater likelihood of being killed in an auto accident as the height of front-end hoods increases, especially on SUVs, trucks and other larger vehicles.
In a report published online this month by the journal Economics of Transportation, Justin Tyndall, a researcher from the University of Hawai’i Economic Research Organization and University of Hawai’i Department of Economics, warns that vehicles with taller front ends are more likely to seriously injure and kill pedestrians in an accident.
Prior research has found pedestrians are especially vulnerable in SUV accidents, because the high front-ends of large vehicles are more in line with a pedestrian’s upper body, which makes them more likely to contact the head or torso in a collision. Because larger vehicles with higher hoods tend to sit higher up than smaller vehicles, they are also more likely to push the pedestrian underneath the vehicle and cause significant or fatal injuries.
Researchers in prior studies have indicated the robust size and height of SUVs and trucks with higher front ends may also create blind spots and decrease driver visibility, which could be a contributing factor to the rise in pedestrian injuries and deaths seen in the U.S. in recent years.
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SUVs Linked to Higher Pedestrian Death Rates
In the latest study, Tyndall analyzed data from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for 13,783 motor vehicle accidents that occurred in the U.S. between 2016 and 2021, which involved one vehicle, one pedestrian, and resulted in serious injury or death. After excluding instances where a vehicle identification number (VIN), vehicle speed, and the model year were not recorded, Tyndall reviewed pedestrian fatality instances with a reduced sample size of 3,375 accidents.
According to the findings, 6.7% of pedestrian auto accidents resulted in a pedestrian death. In analyzing instances of pedestrian fatalities reported among the reduced sample size of 3,375 accidents, 9.1% resulted in death.
In comparing the average size of vehicles, the data revealed the average front-end height of vehicles increased by 5%, or 6 cm, between 2016 and 2021, while the average weight of vehicles increased by 3%, 43 kg or 95 pounds, during that time.
Full-sized SUVs and pickup trucks had the highest front-end heights, which were 27-28% higher than the average hood heights of compact cars. Vans were 24% taller than the average compact car, and compact SUVs were 19% taller, according to the findings.
Tyndall also reviewed what types of vehicles were involved in fatal pedestrian accidents, finding collissions involving a pickup truck or full-sized SUV had significantly higher pedestrian death rates than smaller, compact vehicles. The data revealed 6.6% of fatal pedestrian accidents involved a van, 8.5% involved a compact car, 11.9% involved a pickup, and 12.4% involved a full-size SUV.
The probability of a pedestrian being killed by certain types of vehicles was also explored in the study. Tyndall estimated compact SUV vehicles increased the probability of pedestrian death by 63%, pickup trucks increased pedestrian death probability by 68%, and full-sized SUVs increased the likelihood of fatal pedestrian injuries by 99%.
The data suggests the dramatic increase in pedestrian fatalities is directly correlated with the increase in vehicle height, which occurred over the same time period, Tyndall determined.
Rising Pedestrian Accidents and Injuries
The findings are similar to those in previous studies, which have also suggested the size and height of vehicles may be responsible for the rising pedestrian injuries and deaths seen in the U.S.
Pedestrian-related crashes have been on the rise in recent years, and so have those involving an SUV. Prior studies have found SUVs are more likely to seriously injure or kill a pedestrian, and those involving an SUV travelling at speeds over 40 miles per hour had a nearly 100% fatality rate.
Another study conducted by Tyndall in 2021 found a direct link between rising pedestrian injury and death rates in the U.S., and the rising popularity of larger vehicles over the past few decades. In that study, Tyndall indicated light trucks and SUVs numbers tripled on U.S. roadways from 2009 to 2019, and vehicle-related pedestrian deaths increased by 30% during that time. He estimated 8,100 pedestrian deaths could have been avoided if all light trucks were replaced with cars.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) released a study in 2020 that had similar findings. Researchers in that study found SUVs were more likely to seriously injure or kill a pedestrian than a compact car, due to the blunt front-end designs, which transfer more energy to a pedestrian’s upper body during the impact of a collision.
“As vehicles age out of the fleet, the vehicles that replace them will tend to be larger. Therefore, the average size of vehicles on US roads will continue to increase in the short term,” Tyndall warned. “As shown, larger vehicles have a clear relationship to pedestrian mortality, suggesting larger vehicle sizes are likely to push pedestrian fatality rates up higher than they would otherwise be barring regulatory changes to vehicle design standards.”
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