American car buyers are showing an increasing preference for big, tall SUVs and trucks, but recent data suggests that this trend towards larger vehicles has deadly consequences. According to a new report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), crashes involving vehicles with hood heights of 40 inches or higher are 45 percent more likely to result in a fatality compared to vehicles with lower hood heights and a sloping profile.
The data arrives during a time of an ongoing pedestrian safety crisis in the US, where fatalities are at a 40-year high and the number of pedestrians killed has spiked by 80 percent since reaching a low in 2009. This deeply concerning increase in pedestrian deaths has raised questions about the safety of larger vehicles and their impact on vulnerable road users.
The auto industry has been pushing for bigger, more robust designs for SUVs and trucks, with claims that these vehicles are safer for drivers in the event of a crash. As a result, consumers have been buying into this marketing and purchasing high-riding vehicles in record numbers.
The sheer size of these vehicles is notable, as the average US passenger vehicle has grown approximately four inches wider, 10 inches longer, eight inches taller, and 1,000 pounds heavier over the past 30 years. Many vehicles now stand at more than 40 inches tall at the leading edge of the hood, with some large pickups featuring hoods that almost reach eye level for adults.
Despite the trend towards larger vehicles, the IIHS report indicates that vehicles with hood heights of more than 40 inches and blunt front ends angled at greater than 65 degrees were 44 percent more likely to cause fatalities in a crash. This data highlights the clear link between vehicle design and mortality rates in accidents.
Previous studies have also addressed the dangers of taller, flat-nosed trucks and SUVs, noting that they are more likely to cause serious injury and death when colliding with pedestrians. The larger bodies and higher carriages of these vehicles increase the likelihood of pedestrians suffering fatal injuries. Additionally, the higher clearances associated with large trucks and SUVs contribute to victims getting trapped underneath the vehicle, rather than being pushed onto the hood or off to the side.
The lack of regulations concerning the safety of pedestrians and cyclists in vehicle designs has been a point of contention. While traditional safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) primarily focused on the risks to automobile occupants, advocates argue that the agency needs to consider the danger posed to vulnerable road users.
Recently, NHTSA announced updates to its New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), introducing new safety features such as automatic emergency braking, blind-spot detection, and lane-keep assistance. However, the agency has not yet taken vehicle design and size into account in its safety assessments, prompting concerns from advocates about the full scope of vehicle safety not being adequately addressed.
As the impact of vehicle design on pedestrian safety becomes increasingly evident, IIHS President David Harkey has urged automakers to consider these findings and evaluate the height and shape of their SUVs and pickups.
In conclusion, the growing popularity of larger vehicles such as SUVs and trucks has contributed to an increased risk to pedestrians and cyclists. The need for regulations and safety assessments that consider the impact of vehicle design on vulnerable road users is of critical importance in addressing the ongoing pedestrian safety crisis.