Increasingly, pedestrians are being killed by SUVs instead of by passenger cars such as sedans and hatchbacks. In the last decade, the rate of pedestrian deaths in SUV collisions has shot up 81 percent, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The IIHS also noted in their 2018 study that high-horsepower vehicles, like SUVs and light trucks, are more likely to be involved in fatal pedestrian collisions.
In the decade previous to 2009, pedestrian deaths had been dropping. What could be causing such a steep rise in the pedestrian death rate, and why are SUVs implicated?
Pedestrian fatalities have climbed to nearly 6,000 a year, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, roughly a 50 percent increase since 2009. Pedestrian deaths for 2016 reached heights they had not seen since 1990.
Some of the factors contributing to the higher rate of pedestrian deaths and SUVs include:
- Automotive design. SUVs are designed differently than passenger cars. They have a blunter front end, and their increased height means pedestrians are struck higher on their body, not on their legs. This fact reduces the possibility that a pedestrian can roll off a vehicle and reduce their injuries. An SUV’s design makes it deadlier to a pedestrian in a crash.
- Distraction. It’s on the increase, and that means not only distracted drivers, but also distracted pedestrians, who may be absorbed by email or texting while walking. The NHTSA claims that one in every ten traffic fatalities is caused by distraction, usually by a smartphone. A Kelley Blue Book auto analyst, Rebecca Lindland, noted recently, “We’ve got distracted drivers and we’ve got distracted pedestrians, and that is a deadly combination.”
- More SUVs on the road. SUVs make up more than half of all new vehicle sales, skyrocketing during the past decade. Therefore, we have more pedestrian deaths because we have more SUVs on the road. But this fact alone does not explain the entire difference; the previous two reasons listed above also play a significant part.
- More Americans walk to work. Those who primarily walk to work totaled 3.3 million in 2005; in 2015, the number was 4.2 million, roughly a 30 percent increase. The greatest increase in pedestrian death rates occurred among those aged 20-69. This is also the age range where people are likely to walk or jog for exercise, exposing them to risk.
Another Possible Factor?
It’s been speculated for years that the bigger the vehicle, the more aggressive the driver. Some older research has shown that men who drive SUVs and sports cars are more likely to be aggressive drivers—and this fact comes from the men themselves. Women, by their own admission, admit they act more aggressively when they drive SUVs and light trucks. Could it possibly be more than coincidence that we now have more aggression on our roads; that aggressive driving causes an increased number of accidents and deaths; and that we also have more SUVs on the road than ever before?
Related to this tantalizing study is evidence that drivers of luxury vehicles are more likely to act aggressively behind the wheel, especially when it comes to ignoring pedestrians and cutting others off. It’s hard to ignore the fact that many luxury vehicles today are SUVs.
Hope for Tech’s Promise
More and more vehicles come equipped with technology making us all safer. For example, forward collision warning systems signal a driver when a collision appears likely. Some versions of these warning systems can also brake the vehicle when a driver doesn’t respond. SUVs, as more expensive vehicles, often have such technology installed; some Volvo SUVs are programmed to detect pedestrians and even bicycles. But pedestrian detection systems are also in Hyundai’s Kona SUV now.
As we all know from various Tesla crashes and autonomous vehicle failures like the Uber crash in Arizona that killed a pedestrian, technology does not automatically make us safer. For now, if you frequently play the role of pedestrian, remaining alert, aware, and defensive in your actions may be the best way to save your life. Watch out for the guy in the SUV!
We’re listening. How can we help you?
At the Law Offices of Steven H. Heisler, we have devoted our practice to defending the rights of personal injury victims. We know how traumatic a serious car accident can be for both the injured person and for his or her family. If you or a loved one was seriously injured in Maryland as a pedestrian, you may be entitled to various kinds of financial compensation, such as medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Keep in mind, however, that there is a statute of limitations – or a time limit – for filing personal injury claims. If you have been injured in an accident, you should not delay. If you need the help of a skilled pedestrian injury attorney, call Steve today for a free initial consultation, or use our online form.