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IIHS: Intersections, Large Vehicles Are a Deadly Combination for Pedestrians

iihs-pedestrian-testing.jpg IIHS pedestrian crash system testing | IIHS images

The popularity of large SUVs and pickup trucks is on the rise, and so are pedestrian crash fatalities. That’s no coincidence, says a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Not only do heavier vehicles — like SUVs, minivans and pickups — cause more serious pedestrian injuries or deaths in the event of a crash compared to cars, but they are also more likely to be involved in a pedestrian-related crash in the first place, according to the study.

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Pedestrian Crash Rates Up, Higher For Large Vehicles

IIHS reports pedestrian crash deaths have climbed 59% since 2009, with 6,500 fatalities and 54,700 pedestrian injuries in 2020. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports a similar uptick of pedestrian fatalities, which rose 3.9% from 2019 to 2020 and were the highest on record since 1989.

The latest IIHS pedestrian crash study looked at a federal database of single-vehicle, single-pedestrian crashes at or near intersections as well as non-intersection crashes. It then compared the frequency of these types of crashes among larger vehicle types (minivans, large vans, pickups and SUVs) to cars.

At intersections, the findings show larger vehicles were more likely to be involved in a pedestrian crash where the pedestrian is crossing while the vehicle is turning: The likelihood that a fatal crash with a pedestrian involved a left turn (versus no turn) was approximately twice as high for SUVs, three times as high for minivans and four times as high for pickups compared to cars. Right-hand turns also proved more dangerous for SUVs and other larger vehicles: The likelihood that a fatal pedestrian crash involved a right turn was 89% higher for pickups and 63% higher for SUVs than for cars.

Outside of intersections, SUVs and pickups were also 51% and 25% more likely than cars to be involved in a fatal pedestrian crash with a person walking or running along the road compared to a straight-on crash with a crossing pedestrian.

Is Vehicle Design the Culprit?

cadillac-xt5-sport-2020-6-a-pillar--front-row--interior--visibility.jpg 2020 Cadillac XT5 Sport | Cars.com photo by Christian Lantry

The IIHS study hypothesizes that reduced visibility in larger vehicles may be to blame for the higher probability of pedestrian crashes when turns are involved. These vehicles often have wider A-pillars, the roof support structures on either side of a vehicle’s windshield, that are intended to support the vehicle in a rollover crash. But there’s a trade-off: The wider A-pillars create larger blind spots that can hinder the driver’s ability to see pedestrians. Additionally, an SUV’s higher ride height and long front may contribute to reduced visibility.

Preventing a Pedestrian Crash

Driver-assist systems like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection can help minimize the chance of pedestrian crashes, but their quality can vary widely. SUV, minivan and pickup truck shoppers should look for a top-rated vehicle-to-pedestrian front crash prevention system to reduce the risk. In 2019, IIHS made it a requirement for all vehicles that earn a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick Plus to have an advanced or superior rating for its vehicle-to-pedestrian front crash prevention system. Since then, the systems have become available on most new models, and nearly half of the vehicles that offer them earned superior ratings in 2021.

 

2020 Ford Explorer making impact in a crash safety test 2020 Ford Explorer | IIHS image

It’s important that drivers don’t overrely on these systems, however. Previous IIHS studies showed that automatic emergency braking systems with pedestrian detection work during daylight hours but are much less effective after dark: The rate of pedestrian crashes was 27% lower for vehicles with pedestrian detection compared to those without the technology, but that only applies to daytime conditions. There was no difference in the probability of pedestrian crashes after dark for vehicles equipped with the technology compared to those without it.

All drivers should exercise caution and watch for pedestrians when turning at an intersection, but especially those who drive larger vehicles. Along with utilizing driver-assist technologies like AEB with pedestrian detection, avoiding risky behavior behind the wheel is also vital. Based on NHTSA’s 2020 traffic crash data, 45% of fatal crashes occurred when the driver was engaged in at least one risky behavior such as speeding or alcohol use.

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