Large SUVs Can Be Dangerous for a Surprising Reason

Large SUVs are popular because of their size and versatility. They allow you to pack a fairly large family and all of their sports equipment and backpacks into one vehicle and hit the road. They can be great for towing moderately-sized equipment and toys, and they’re usually pretty stylish. Yet there’s a dark side to big SUVs, too (and not just their fuel economy). Large SUVs hit pedestrians when turning “often,” according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That’s a pretty frightening fact. 

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Large SUVs hit pedestrians “often” hit pedestrians while turning

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According to the IIHS, large SUVs (and other big vehicles) are “substantially more likely than cars to hit pedestrians when making turns…” The IIHS theorizes that this means that large SUVs don’t have the same visibility as smaller vehicles. They cannot see pedestrians crossing as clearly as smaller SUVs and cars.

As if it’s not bad enough that large SUVs are hitting pedestrians more than other vehicles, they’re causing more damage when they do. Part of the reason for this is that the front of large SUVs is lined up with some pretty vulnerable parts of the human body. That means that when there is a collision, injuries tend to be more grievous.

Jessica Cicchino, Vice President of Research at the IIHS says, “The link between these vehicle types and certain common pedestrian crashes points to another way that the increase in SUVs on the roads might be changing the crash picture.”

The IIHS study shows how dangerous large SUVs can be

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The IIHS study looked at accidents between one car and one pedestrian at locations like intersections. Then it studied the types of vehicles involved. The IIHS found that the number of pedestrian deaths that ocurred because an SUV was turning left (versus not turning at all) was twice as high for SUVs as it was for cars. It was also three times as high for minivans and vans, and four times as high for pickup trucks.

In addition, the chances that a pedestrian was killed by an SUV turning right was 63% higher for SUVs than it was for cars, and 89% higher for pickup trucks than cars. The IIHS says that these types of accidents caused more than 900 pedestrian deaths.

Pedestrian deaths are on the rise

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2009 marked a low point of pedestrian deaths, but since then numbers have increased every year. In fact, pedestrian deaths are up 59% until more than 6,500 people died in 2020. On top of that, 54,700 pedestrians were injured in 2020, an astonishing amount. This dramatic rise in pedestrian injuries and death may be linked to the growing size of SUVs and trucks.

IIHS Senior Transportation Engineer Wen Hu says that it’s possible the design of larger vehicles accounts for some of the pedestrian deaths. He says, “It’s possible that the size, shape or location of the A-pillars that support the roof on either side of the windshield could make it harder for drivers of these larger vehicles to see crossing pedestrians when they are turning.”

So how can larger SUVs and other vehicles become safer for pedestrians? Hu says, “Improving vehicle design, along with addressing road infrastructure and vehicle speeds, can play an important part in reducing pedestrian crashes and fatalities.”

Other things that may help are advanced safety systems like automatic emergency braking that detects pedestrians, hood airbags, automatic-popping hoods on impact, and design changes to the hood resulting in more sloped hoods. No matter which steps are taken, it’s clear that something needs to be done to reduce the dangers of large SUVs to pedestrians.

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