Are SUVs to blame for skyrocketing pedestrian deaths?

A new IIHS study shows fatal single-vehicle SUV crashes have increased more than any other type of vehicle.

Andrew Krok Reviews Editor / Cars
Cars are Andrew's jam, as is strawberry. After spending years as a regular ol' car fanatic, he started working his way through the echelons of the automotive industry, starting out as social-media director of a small European-focused garage outside of Chicago. From there, he moved to the editorial side, penning several written features in Total 911 Magazine before becoming a full-time auto writer, first for a local Chicago outlet and then for CNET Cars.
Andrew Krok
2 min read
Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

Despite all the progress the auto industry has made in ensuring its vehicles are safe, pedestrian deaths are still on the rise, big time. So what gives?

A new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that pedestrian deaths have increased 46 percent since 2009, their lowest point. Not only have pedestrian crashes become more frequent, they've become deadlier, too, and SUVs might share some of this blame.

Pedestrians crossing busy, rain soaked road in front of a
Enlarge Image
Pedestrians crossing busy, rain soaked road in front of a

Jaywalking isn't going to improve your chances of avoiding a collision. If anything, it makes it way more likely.

Roberto Machado Noa/Getty Images

The IIHS' data shows that fatal single-vehicle crashes involving SUVs have risen 81 percent between 2009 and 2016, the largest increase of any single vehicle type. Not only are SUVs growing in popularity, their larger footprint and higher bodies means collisions are more likely to occur near a pedestrian's chest or head.

SUVs weren't the only metric that saw increasing pedestrian deaths. They were up across the board, although urban environments, arterial roads, nighttime and non-intersection crashes were up the most.

So what can the industry (and the country as a whole) do to prevent this? The IIHS points to an earlier study that suggests softening the front ends of SUVs and improving pedestrian detection systems can help reduce crashes and fatalities.

In terms of changes not specific to SUVs, the IIHS recommends improving headlight illumination, which is one of the reasons why headlights are now included in the scoring criteria for its Top Safety Pick awards. A vast majority of pedestrian deaths in 2016 took place at night, and many automakers have received poor marks for their headlights in recent years.

From the government side, the IIHS recommends reining in speed limits, because higher speeds lead to deadlier crashes with increasing frequency. It also suggests adding more "pedestrian hybrid beacons," which illuminate to warn drivers when people are entering the roadway to across.