Large trucks and SUVs, especially those with flat fronts, are not only more intimidating to look at, they’re also deadlier to pedestrians, according to new research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Researchers at the institute studied records of nearly 18,000 incidents in which vehicles hit pedestrians. They found that vehicles with grilles that were 40 inches or longer were 45 percent more likely to kill a pedestrian.
Long front fascias are common among full-size trucks and SUVs but are not limited to very large vehicles. According to the study, the Jeep Renegade, a compact SUV, also has a boxy front end with the leading edge of the hood rising more than 40 inches off the ground.
Even when the hood isn’t that high, the boxy front end — with a nearly vertical grille and a hood that sticks almost out of the windshield — is likely to cause death or serious injury to pedestrians. Overall, vehicles with a boxy front end, even when only moderate in height, are about 26% more likely to kill a pedestrian, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Pedestrian fatalities have increased more than 80% since 2009, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). In 2021, nearly 7,400 people were struck by vehicles and killed. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) said that while factors such as speeding and poor road design contribute to the problem, safety experts have also pointed to the increasing popularity of large trucks and SUVs.
While particularly long front-end designs have become popular among full-size trucks, the aggressive styling serves no function.
“Manufacturers can make vehicles less hazardous to pedestrians by lowering the front end of the hood and adjusting the angle of the grille and hood to create a sloping shape,” Wen Hu, senior research transportation engineer at IIHS, said in a statement. “There is no functional benefit to these huge, blocky fronts.”
Vehicles with front ends higher than 35 inches, especially those with front ends that don’t slope down gently, were more likely to cause serious head, torso and hip injuries, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) report. The institute said shorter pedestrians were particularly at risk.
The researchers statistically controlled for factors that might change the risk of injury, such as the speed limit in the area where the impact occurred, as well as the age and gender of the person who was injured.
The researchers excluded vehicles that had automatic braking with pedestrian detection, an increasingly popular technology that has been shown to reduce pedestrian injuries. The federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed making the technology mandatory.
“Our light trucks and full-size SUVs come standard with front pedestrian braking and surround-view (high-definition) camera systems that are available or standard on most trim levels,” GM said in a statement.
Ford noted in a statement that automatic braking with pedestrian detection is a standard feature on nearly all of its new vehicles, including F-Series pickup trucks. The company said it also offers other emergency braking systems to prevent low-speed impacts.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the auto industry group that represents several major U.S. automakers, said in a statement that its members are making “significant investments” to improve pedestrian safety.
NHTSA has also proposed adding pedestrian safety tests to its system of crash tests and other safety measurements for new vehicles.
Automakers must also consider pedestrian safety in the design of their vehicles, IIHS President David Harkey said in a statement.
“It is clear that the increasing volume of vehicles in the US fleet is costing pedestrians their lives,” he said. “We encourage automakers to consider these findings and take a hard look at the ride height and shape of their SUVs and pickup trucks.”