Pedestrian Fatalities Soaring in the U.S. | Are SUVs the Culprit?

New research indicates that pedestrian deaths have disproportionally increased faster than overall traffic deaths in the past 10 years. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study says that pedestrian deaths are now at their highest level in 28 years. Nationwide, nearly 6,000 pedestrians were killed in 2016, a rise of 46 percent from 2009, when such deaths were at a low point. It’s also the most pedestrian deaths since 1990.

The Institute found that the growing number of deaths occurred when it was dark and mostly on roads designed to funnel urban or suburban traffic onto freeways. The increase was also attributed to the preponderance of SUVs that travel these roads. The IIHS also discovered that many of them were speeding at the time of the accident.

“This analysis tells us that improvements in road design, vehicle design, lighting and speed limit enforcement all have a role to play in addressing the issue,” the institute’s president, David Harkey, said in a statement that accompanied the release of the IIHS study.

There’s plenty of accumulated evidence to reinforce the suggestion that SUVs pose more danger to pedestrians. In 2015, University of Michigan researchers found that pedestrians are more than three times as likely to be killed when struck by an SUV than when struck by a traditional passenger vehicle. This is primarily because of the size and general design: a high, blocky front end and hood focuses the driver’s line of sight closer to the vehicle.

Clay Gabler, who researched pedestrian safety in SUV collisions for Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, warned about the front end design of SUVs back in 2003. He also predicted that the number of pedestrians killed by SUVs would increase.  “Pedestrians are losing the safety battle. Despite over 4000 pedestrian deaths a year [in 2002] there are no pedestrian impact safety regulations under serious consideration in the U.S.”

Keith Bradsher, the former bureau chief for New York Times in Detroit, wrote a biting account of the production and marketing of SUV’s in 2002. In “High and Mighty,” he asked and answered his own question: “Why are big square-nosed SUVs still everywhere? Because they sell: those front-end features that kill and maim pedestrians are popular with consumers.”

He also pointed out that SUV drivers are demographically similar to minivan drivers but are more “self-oriented” psychologically.” Bradsher also reported that SUV drivers are more fearful of crime, less likely to be involved in their communities, and less committed to their families,

Two years earlier, in 2000, Daimler Chrysler Director of Market Research David Bostwick told Bradsher that for consumers, ”[i]t’s not safety as the issue, it’s aggressiveness, it’s the ability to go off the road.” Research from other organizations has also showed that SUV owners drive faster and place a lower value on being courteous on the road.