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New studies find SUVs and pickups with high flat fronts are 45% more likely to kill.
The IIHS calls for automakers to "take a hard look at the height and shape of their SUVs and pickups.” We call for regulation.
There’s a lovely new pickup truck in our neighbourhood, a RAM 1500 Gator. The streets are full of pickups now, and this site is full of my complaining about car bloat and electric truck design and how it’s time for limits on truck size and weight. You might think it’s time I stuck to upfront carbon, but new research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) looks specifically at how dangerous these are for pedestrians. The numbers are shocking, with pickups and SUVs like this 45% more likely to kill.
“Some of today’s vehicles are pretty intimidating when you’re passing in front of them in a crosswalk,” IIHS President David Harkey said. “These results tell us our instincts are correct: More aggressive-looking vehicles can indeed do more harm.”
The researchers claim this is the first study to use police-reported crash data and correlate it with the five front-end profile parameters. The study had 2,958 combinations of the parameters and 17,897 single-passenger-vehicle single-pedestrian crashes. To the surprise of nobody reading this site,
“Vehicles with tall front ends, regardless of a sloped or blunt shape, as well as vehicles with medium-height and blunt front ends (as seen in all pickups and a majority of SUVs) were more likely to kill a pedestrian in a crash when compared with vehicles with a low front end (as seen in a majority of cars).”
Significantly more likely- SUVs and pickups with vertical fronts more than 40 inches high were 45% more likely to kill, compared to a car with a hood height lower than 30 inches and a sloped hood.
As I did in Death to skeuomorphism, the researchers also note that it doesn’t have to be this way as we electrify.
“The increasing popularity of electric vehicles also offers great opportunities to optimize vehicle design for pedestrian safety. For gas-powered vehicles, the front ends are designed around engines and there is very limited deformation space under the hood due to the engines. The absence of conventional engines in electric vehicles may allow for more freedom in the front-end design.”
Another study released at the same time, Vehicle front-end geometry and in-depth pedestrian injury outcomes, examined 121 crashes in detail and found that “having a higher hood leading edge height increased pedestrian injury severity, especially among vehicles with blunt front ends. The poor crash outcomes associated front ends and a tendency for them to throw pedestrians forward after impact.” The study authors conclude by noting that pedestrian crashworthiness testing has existed in Europe and Asia since 2000 and should be implemented in North America.
As we have noted for years, this is why European cars, which are subject to Euro-NCAP testing for pedestrian injuries, consistently have lower front ends; they know how to build a bonnet.
The study also notes that “Larger vehicles tend to be overrepresented in low-speed turning crashes” due to the size of A-pillars (they have to be beefy enough to hold up the car and not crush the driver in a rollover) and “front-over” crashes where the drivers in a tall vehicle can’t see what is immediately in front of them. It’s all about design, about putting aggressive styling over safety.
“Without a specific regulation or consumer evaluation for front-end height and shape, there will be little incentive for automakers to prioritize these designs over styling trends and other potentially conflicting design considerations. Designing less aggressive vehicles is an integral part of the Safe System approach, and encouraging automakers to adopt front-end designs that mitigate pedestrian injury risks will bring us closer to the national goal of zero roadway fatalities.”
One would hope that the 45% more likely to kill statistic will get someone to take notice.
I have previously complained about the IIHS. They tend to favour big cars and trucks with their annual safety ratings, noting that “Larger, heavier vehicles generally afford more protection than smaller, lighter ones.” The insurance industry funds it and publishes insurance loss results by vehicle, showing that large vehicles dominate the top ten vehicles with the lowest collision losses. (on the list of the top ten vehicles with the highest losses, four are BMWs, proving once again that they have the worst drivers)
I have suggested that the insurance companies should be cranking up the rates for pickups and SUVs because they are so dangerous for pedestrians, but clearly, when it comes to insurance losses, bigger and higher is better for them. Their interests do not necessarily align with those of pedestrians and cyclists.
But perhaps these two new studies indicate a change in attitude, at least for the IIHS president:
“It’s clear that the increasing size of the vehicles in the U.S. fleet is costing pedestrians their lives,” Harkey said. “We encourage automakers to consider these findings and take a hard look at the height and shape of their SUVs and pickups.”
Their interests certainly don’t align with the vertically challenged like me, with that Ram 1500 at my shoulder height. The study noted, “Pedestrians who were shorter relative to the height of the striking vehicle also suffered more severe injuries.” Forget the war on the car; this is a war on short people!