Late-model SUVs appear to be more likely to kill pedestrians than cars, a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found.
Though their designs have changed considerably over the past two decades, researchers found greater risk to pedestrians from SUVs in a recent study. This was pulled from an analysis of crashes in three urban areas in Michigan; due to the sample size, more research will be required to see whether all of the findings hold up in a larger study.
In the Michigan crashes, SUVs caused more serious injuries than cars when impacts occurred at greater than 19 miles per hour. At speeds of 20-39 mph, three out of 10 crashes with SUVs (30%) resulted in a pedestrian fatality, compared with five out of 22 for cars (23%). At 40 mph and higher, all three crashes with SUVs killed the pedestrian (100%), compared with seven out of 13 crashes involving cars (54%). Below 20 miles per hour there was little difference between the outcomes, with pedestrians struck by either vehicle type tending to sustain minor injuries.
These studied crashes are not necessarily representative of those that occur nationwide. However, the injury patterns were consistent with earlier, national studies in showing that SUVs were more likely than cars to throw pedestrians forward and nearly twice as likely to cause severe hip and thigh injuries. These injuries were mainly caused by impacts with the bumper, grille or headlights. That’s likely because the high point of the front profile or “leading edge” of most new SUVs is still considerably higher than that of the average car.
The number of people killed in motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. has fallen from more than 50,000 in 1980 to 36,560 in 2018, IIHS found. Over the past decade, however, the number of pedestrians killed on American roads has ticked steadily upward. Although pedestrian crashes most frequently involved cars, fatal single-vehicle crashes involving SUVs striking pedestrians increased 81% from 2009 to 2016, more than any other type of vehicle.
The number of pedestrians killed by vehicles rose 53% from 2009 to 2018, the latest year for which statistics are available, IIHS said. Over the same period, the share of SUVs in the U.S. passenger vehicle fleet rose to 29% from 21%, according to vehicle registration data from IHS Markit. Pedestrians now account for nearly a fifth of all traffic fatalities — a proportion not seen since the early 1980s.