Mar 17, 2022 - Economy

Boom in SUVs and pickups threatens pedestrians

 Illustration of skull decoration hanging from a car’s rear view mirror.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The nation’s SUV and pickup boom is killing pedestrians.

Driving the news: Those larger vehicles are “substantially more likely than cars to hit pedestrians when making turns,” according to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety released Thursday.

  • 6,516 pedestrians were killed in the U.S. in 2020, the latest full-year official numbers available, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
  • That was the highest since 1989.
  • And SUVs, minivans and pickups now represent about 4 in 5 new vehicle sales.

Of note: It's not just because there are more pickups and SUVs on the road than ever. Statistically, SUVs and pickups are involved in a greater percentage of "certain types" of pedestrian crashes than their share of total vehicles, according to IIHS.

  • IIHS researchers posited that the column separating the driver-side window and the windshield in SUVs and pickups might make it harder for drivers to see pedestrians when turning — especially when heading left.
  • “The size and shape of the A-pillar can sometimes obscure visibility of the places where pedestrians are when they're starting to cross,” IIHS Vice President of Research Jessica Cicchino, one of the study’s authors, tells Axios.

The big picture: The IIHS study adds to a growing body of evidence that SUVs and pickups are a major factor in the nation’s pedestrian safety crisis.

  • Studies had already shown that, when collisions occur, SUVs and pickups are more likely than cars to kill the pedestrians involved.

The other side: Automakers say they’re investing in technology to improve pedestrian safety, including automotive emergency braking (AEB) systems. But they are not expected to support any measures that would compromise the sales of SUVs and pickups, their most profitable vehicles.

The big question: Will regulators take action?

  • NHTSA had no immediate comment Thursday.
  • Under the Biden administration, NHTSA has revived Obama administration era efforts to incorporate pedestrian AEB into the agency’s vehicle safety ratings.
  • John Bozzella, CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents automakers in Washington, told a congressional committee in 2021 that the group supports including pedestrian AEB in to the safety rating system.

But, but, but: Pedestrian AEB is helpful, yet doesn't work as well as night, according to IIHS.

  • And "the dark is where most pedestrian fatalities occur," Cicchino says. "So we also want to be continuously improving the technology that's available so that it can prevent the deadliest pedestrian crashes."
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