It doesn't even take two functioning eyeballs to realize that cars and SUVs are wildly different, and while people might appreciate the higher ride height and bulkier looks, those buyers might not realize they're contributing to increased pedestrian deaths.
The rise of SUVs in the American market has led to a surge of pedestrian deaths, according to a new report from the Detroit Free Press and USA Today. It's an intensely well-researched piece, and I highly suggest you check out the full thing, but I'll break out some of the more salient tidbits here.
"Data analyses by the Free Press/USA Today and others show that SUVs are the constant in the increase [in pedestrian deaths] and account for a steadily growing proportion of deaths," the report states. Part of that comes from the vehicle's design, with SUVs' taller, flatter noses making contact higher up on a pedestrian than an equivalent sedan. More weight translates to more momentum, as well, which means an SUV traveling at the same speed as a smaller sedan will likely cause more serious injuries.
What makes this even worse is that the government apparently knows all this already, but it hasn't done anything yet. According to the report, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study in 2015 pointed out that a meta-analysis concluded that pedestrians "are 2-3 times more likely to suffer a fatality when struck by an SUV or pickup truck" versus a passenger car.
The NHTSA had planned to introduce changes to its New Car Assessment Program to address SUVs and pedestrian deaths, but that hasn't happened yet. It's unclear what's caused the delay, but the study notes that the NHTSA hasn't had a permanent chief since President Trump entered office. It also points out that some automakers stated their opposition to such a change in federal safety ratings.
Thankfully, there are things we can do to mitigate this rise without forcing automakers back to the literal drawing board. The study suggests that cities invest in more pedestrian safety, whether that includes lane reductions, the installation of medians and lengthening the time allotted to pedestrians for street crossings.
The Freep and USA Today also place some of the burden back on the automakers, suggesting that a more widespread adoption of standard safety systems like forward collision warning, pedestrian detection and autobrake can help slow down the rising number of pedestrian deaths. Other pedestrian-focused safety systems include hoods that rise up upon collision to cushion the blow, and even external airbags meant to help protect pedestrians.
We might not be able to stop the wave of buyers flocking to SUVs, but we don't have to resign ourselves to fate in regards to how many additional deaths will come as a result. Be sure to give the full feature a read when you have the time.