Oversized trucks and SUVs have become increasingly noticeable in recent years, resembling vehicles on a steroid-induced regimen. While the towering hoods of these vehicles may intuitively appear more perilous to pedestrians and other vulnerable road users, recent empirical evidence now substantiates these concerns.
Being a pedestrian in the United States hasn’t been safe in many years – 2022 marked the deadliest year on record for US pedestrians.
The issue stems from multiple factors. Urban planning priorities have long favored car traffic, resulting in environments that prioritize the flow of speeding vehicles over the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. Vehicles themselves also contribute significantly to the problem.
One contributing factor is the shift from sedans to larger vehicles such as crossovers, SUVs, and pickup trucks. Data from the 1990s revealed that pedestrians struck by light trucks were two to three times more likely to be killed, with another study indicating that light trucks were twice as likely to injure pedestrians compared to cars, particularly at lower speeds.
A recent study published in the Economics of Transportation journal analyzed crash data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spanning from 2016 to 2021, focusing on single-vehicle collisions involving pedestrians. Conducted by Justin Tyndall of the University of Hawaii, the study matched crash data with vehicle specifications, filtering out cases with incomplete information to create a final sample of 3,375 crashes.
The study revealed that pickups, full-size SUVs, and even minivans exhibited significantly taller hood heights compared to the average car, with pickups and SUVs also boasting much heavier weights. Over the span of six years, the median front-end height increased by 5 percent, while vehicle weight increased by 3 percent.
Among the crashes analyzed, vans demonstrated the lowest fatality rate at 6.6 percent, followed by cars at 8.5 percent, and compact SUVs at 8.8 percent. However, full-size SUVs and pickup trucks posed significantly greater risks, with fatality rates of 12.4 percent and 11.9 percent respectively.
The study emphasized the role of hood height and vehicle weight in pedestrian fatalities. Controlling for other variables, the study found that light trucks were 68 percent more likely to result in pedestrian fatalities compared to cars. Furthermore, compact SUVs, pickup trucks, and full-size SUVs increased the probability of pedestrian death by 63 percent, 68 percent, and 99 percent respectively.
The study estimated that imposing regulations limiting hood heights to 49.2 inches or less could potentially save hundreds of pedestrian lives annually