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IIHS Study:SUVs More Dangerous to Pedestrians Than Cars

Liz Kim | Jun 18, 2020

Even on the best of days, a matchup between a pedestrian and any type of vehicle will not end favorably for the pedestrian. That’s especially true if the vehicle striking a pedestrian is an SUV, according to a new study out by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). 

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study SUVs and pedestrians

Given the ever-growing popularity of SUVs with consumers, this is especially troubling. In 2009, according to the IIHS, SUVs comprised about 21 percent of vehicles driven on the road. Less than a decade later, they made up 29 percent. Today, SUVs and pickup trucks make up 70 percent of all new vehicle sales, according to a report by The New York Times.

And while vehicle collision fatalities have decreased in the past 40 years, from 50,000 in 1980 to 36,560 in 2018 based on IIHS data, the number of pedestrian deaths in the past 10 years has increased 53 percent, with upticks year after year. Currently, vehicle-to-pedestrian collisions count for about 21 percent of all traffic fatalities.

The IIHS study found that pedestrians struck by SUVs, as compared to those struck by cars, suffer more serious injuries when the vehicle is traveling at more than 19 mph. The SUVs are also responsible for a greater proportion of fatalities. For instance, at 40 mph, SUVs killed 100 percent of the pedestrians struck, while 46 percent of those struck by a car survived. Below 19 mph, the IIHS found no appreciable differences between SUVs and cars.

According to the IIHS, the reason SUVs cause more serious injuries and more frequent fatalities is the height of the front profile, or “leading edge” of the vehicle. With an SUV, the front profile is higher than that of a car, producing a pedestrian impact point that can cause graver injuries. This finding is true in spite of recent modifications to SUV design, which have lowered their force-absorbing structures to cause less damage in collisions with cars.

The IIHS study is based on a relatively small sampling of 79 crashes that took place in three metropolitan areas of Michigan. While the data is limited in scope and geography, it does align with previous studies that show that SUVs are more likely to cause more serious injuries and higher fatalities in collisions with pedestrians.

If you’re buying a new SUV (or a pickup truck), be aware that your choice in a vehicle is potentially more harmful in vehicle-to-pedestrian collisions. And if you’re a pedestrian, pay closer attention to traffic when you’re near a roadway. Your chances of getting seriously hurt or killed are only going up as more people choose SUVs and trucks over cars.

The information in this article is from the IIHS. It was accurate on June 18, 2020 but may have changed since that date.

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