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Rise in pedestrian deaths linked to SUVs, performance cars in US

By Barry Park, 10 May 2018 News

Rise in pedestrian deaths linked to SUVs, performance cars in US

Crashes that kill pedestrians are more likely to involve SUVs and high-horsepower vehicles, study shows

SUVs have been blamed for a large spike in the number of pedestrians killed in the US, a study from an independent road safety advocacy claims.

However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has also taken a swipe at the US’s increasing appetite for horsepower, laying part of the blame at the feet of performance car owners who are more likely to speed in urban areas.

“From 2009 to 2016, the largest increases in pedestrian deaths occurred under the circumstances that historically have seen the highest numbers of pedestrian fatalities,” the IIHS said. “Pedestrian deaths increased 54 percent in urban areas, which include both cities and what most people consider suburbs. They also increased 67 percent on arterials, 50 percent at non-intersections and 56 percent in the dark.”

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It didn’t hold back in its assessment of where those extra deaths came from. “Although pedestrian crashes most frequently involved cars, fatal single-vehicle crashes involving SUVs increased 81 percent, more than any other type of vehicle,” it said. “The power of passenger vehicles involved in fatal single-vehicle pedestrian crashes, as measured by the ratio of horsepower to weight, also increased, with larger increases at the top of the scale.”

The IIHS also took a shot at the rush to add autonomous vehicles to US roads: “The March crash of an Uber vehicle that killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona, was unusual for involving a self-driving vehicle. But in other ways, it was typical of fatal pedestrian crashes: an SUV traveling on an urban arterial road struck a person crossing mid-block in the dark.”

Pedestrian deaths in the US have jumped 46 percent since reaching their lowest point in 2009, as pedestrian crashes have become both deadlier and more frequent. It is in stark contrast to Australia, where pedestrian deaths have fallen 18 percent over the same period.

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The Australian Road Deaths Database, which records every road-based fatality since 1989, does not list the type of vehicle involved in a crash unless it is a truck or a bus. A spokesman for the Department of Infrastructure, which collates the data, told Wheels the information it collected did include police reports of a vehicle’s make or model. 

However, “in over 25 percent of cases, vehicle details are not recorded and the vehicle coding is not sufficiently consistent to provide reliable data on model safety”, the spokesman said.

The IIHS report suggests speed enforcement will go a long way to helping reduce the pedestrian-based road toll.

“Reliable information on vehicle speeds is not available in fatality data, but IIHS researchers did find that the vehicles involved in fatal pedestrian crashes, like the overall vehicle fleet, are increasingly powerful,” it said. “Previous IIHS research has shown that vehicles with higher horsepower-to-weight ratios tend to be driven faster and are more likely to violate posted speed limits.

“Despite the dangers of high speeds, the story of speed limits in recent decades has been one of continual increases. In addition to lower speed limits, broader use of speed cameras to enforce existing limits is a proven solution. Institute research has shown that automated speed enforcement reduces speed limit violations and injury crashes.”

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It said carmakers could also do their bit to help reduce the number of fatalities by changing designs to lessen the severity of crashes involving pedestrians.

“These make up an increasingly large percentage of registered vehicles, and previous studies have found that SUVs, pickups and vans are associated with a higher risk of death or severe injury to pedestrians,” it said. “Such vehicles have higher and often more vertical front ends than cars and are more likely to strike a pedestrian in the head or chest. Changes in the front-end design of these vehicles could help lessen the severity of injuries when they strike pedestrians.”