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SUVs likely contribute to higher pedestrian fatality rate, study shows

Pedestrian deaths climbed between 2009 and 2018 in the US, just as SUVs became more popular.

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Early data shows SUVs are far more lethal in the event of a crash involving a pedestrian.

IIHS

Americans used to choose the family sedan over basically any other vehicle on the market, but in the past decade, SUVs largely displaced sedans as a body style. While consumer choices create plenty of reverberations across the auto industry, a new study shows the growing number of SUVs on the road could actually contribute to higher death rates in pedestrian crashes.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety published new research Tuesday that suggests SUVs are more lethal than a passenger car in the event of a pedestrian crash. While IIHS acknowledges that its sample size was small -- it examined 79 crashes that took place in Michigan -- the data draws a wide contrast. The insurance industry-funded safety body also said it plans to continue studying crashes and research SUVs and pedestrian deaths.

Overall, SUVs caused more serious injury to pedestrians than a passenger car at speeds over 19 mph. In crashes with SUVs traveling 20 mph to 39 mph, 30% of crashes resulted in a pedestrian fatality. That's compared with 23% of crashes resulting in a pedestrian's death that involved a car.

At speeds over 40 mph, a crash involving a pedestrian in the sample size resulted in the pedestrian's death 100% of the time, if the subject vehicle was an SUV. A fatality occurred only 54% of the time when such a crash involved a car and a pedestrian. Though again, this is a small sample. 

Since 2008, pedestrian deaths have been slowly increasing through 2018, which is the last year for which full data is available. Pedestrian fatalities increased 53% over the 10-year period. Meanwhile, vehicle registration shows SUVs increased their share of the US vehicle fleet by 8%.

Although automakers have absolutely taken to more carlike designs for so many SUVs and crossovers, the changes largely benefit other drivers in the event of a crash, which the IIHS notes. In addition to researching pedestrian and SUV crashes more closely, the IIHS also plans to identify what SUV profile poses the least risk to a pedestrian.

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