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IIHS Study: SUVs Remain More Deadly to Pedestrians

SUVs Still Kill More Pedestrians, Despite Changes

Last month, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) issued a press release informing the public that one of their recent studies revealed that despite design changes over the past 20 years, late-model sports utility vehicles (SUVs) are still more likely than cars to result in pedestrian fatalities.  

Overall, safety advances have resulted in a decrease in fatalities caused by motor vehicle collisions – in 1980, the number of fatalities was greater than 50,000. By 2018, that number had fallen to less than 36,600.  Despite the drop in overall motor vehicle crash fatalities, the number of pedestrians killed on roads within the United States has crept up steadily over the last 10 years.

More SUVs on the Road

The lead author of the study is a statistician employed by the Institute.  He pointed out the number of SUVs driven in the U.S. has increased dramatically, so the fact that they are still more deadly than cars to pedestrians is discouraging.  The recent study that revealed SUVs pose a greater risk analyzed 79 crashes in Michigan.  Given the small sample size, more research is needed to determine how the findings compare to a larger study.

From 2009 to 2018, the number of pedestrians vs. vehicle fatalities increased by 53 percent. This increase coincided with a rise in the SUV fleet with the U.S. from 21% to  29%. Pedestrian crashes now account for almost one-fifth of traffic fatalities, a figure not seen since the early 80s.

Speed Matters

The Michigan study showed that SUVs caused more significant injuries than cars when the impact speed is more than 19 miles per hour. Thirty percent of crashes at speeds of 20-39 mph resulted in a pedestrian fatality, compared to 23 percent for crashes involving cars.  When speeds increased to 40 mph and higher, 100 percent of the three crashes killed the pedestrian compared to 54 percent (7 out of 13) in collisions involving cars.  Crashes that occurred at speeds less than 20 mph, the difference was minimal; pedestrians struck by either type of vehicle tended to sustain only minor injuries.

Vehicle Profile Plays a Role

The injury patterns demonstrated in the Michigan study crashes were consistent with prior national studies in that they showed that SUVs were more likely to throw pedestrians forward.  They were nearly twice as likely than cars to cause severe thigh and hip injuries, which were mainly caused by impact with the grille, headlights, or bumper.  The “leading edge” of most later model SUVs is still much higher than an average car. IIHS wants to use the crash data from the Michigan study to understand which SUV profiles pose the least risk to pedestrians in a crash.

Pedestrian Risk Still Increased Despite Design Changes

Late-model SUVs have more car-like designs thanks to changes made by manufacturers, partly aimed at addressing the risk SUVs posed to occupants of average cars.  One of the changes included lowering bumpers and other force-absorbing structures so that they would align better with the same structures on smaller vehicles.  As a result of these changes, new SUVs do not pose a greater risk to the occupants of other vehicles outside of that which comes from having a greater weight.  These changes, however, do not address the danger to pedestrians that SUVs pose, nor were they intended to.  When analyzing crashes involving pedestrians, where the force-absorbing structures are located is not as important as the overall construction of the front end.  

SUVs with a block-front, traditional style result in crashes where the grille makes contact with a pedestrian’s chest or pelvis split seconds after the lower extremities are hit by the bumper.  This transfers more energy to the pedestrian’s body. A profile with more of a slope could potentially do less damage.

Below is a YouTube video posted by IIHS featuring one of its pedestrian crash prevention tests.

Sacramento Wrongful Death Lawyer

I’m Ed Smith, a wrongful death lawyer in Sacramento, California. If you have suffered the loss of a loved one caused by another person’s negligence, you may be interested in retaining compassionate legal counsel.  A wrongful death lawsuit cannot bring back your loved one, nor erase your grief, but it may help assist with any economic burden created by the loss.  Reach out to me for free and friendly advice at (916) 921-6400 within the local area or at (800) 404-5400 from outside the region. I also have an online contact form, if you prefer.

I have assisted Sacramentans with wrongful death claims, traffic accidents, and traumatic injuries for nearly four decades.

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