Truck bulges are killing us, new accident data reveals

Truck bulges are killing us, new accident data reveals

American car buyers can’t get enough of big, long SUVs and trucks — but new data suggests the downsides of this trend are growing exponentially.

Crashes involving vehicles with a hood height of 40 inches or higher are 45 percent more likely to result in a fatality than vehicles with a hood height of 30 inches or less with a sloping profile, according to a new report analyzing federal accident statistics. By the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

The data comes amid an ongoing pedestrian safety crisis in the United States, where the number of deaths has reached a 40-year high, and the number of pedestrian fatalities has increased by 80 percent since reaching its lowest point in 2009.

This data comes amid the ongoing pedestrian safety crisis in the United States

It also comes at a time when the auto industry is embracing larger, wilder designs for SUVs and trucks, arguing that such vehicles are safer for drivers in the event of a crash. Car buyers are increasingly buying into this marketing, snapping up these high-riding vehicles in record numbers.

How tall are we talking here? According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the average passenger car in the United States has become about four inches wider, ten inches longer, eight inches, and 1,000 pounds heavier over the past 30 years. Many vehicles are more than 40 inches tall at the leading edge of the hood. On some larger pickup trucks, the hoods are nearly at eye level for many adults.

“Some vehicles today are downright scary when you pass them in a crosswalk,” IIHS President David Harkey said in a statement. “These results tell us that our instincts are correct: aggressive-looking compounds can actually cause more damage.”

To determine any links between so-called truck overloads and pedestrian fatalities, the group studied 17,897 crashes involving a single-occupant vehicle and a single pedestrian. Using VIN numbers to identify vehicles involved in a collision, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) calculated the corresponding key front-end measurements for 2,958 unique vehicles from photographs. The group also excluded vehicles equipped with automatic pedestrian emergency braking systems, and controlled for other factors that could affect the likelihood of death, such as the speed limit and the age and gender of the injured pedestrian.

The conclusions show a clear link between vehicle design and crash duration. Vehicles with a hood height greater than 40 inches and sharp front ends with an angle greater than 65 degrees were 44 percent more likely to cause fatalities.

In many respects, these findings are not new. There have been numerous studies and investigations looking at how likely long, flat-nosed trucks and SUVs are to cause serious injury and death when they collide with pedestrians. Larger objects and higher vehicles mean pedestrians are more likely to suffer fatal blows to the head and torso, compared to the legs, when struck by a shorter vehicle. Higher clearances mean victims are more likely to be caught under a speeding SUV rather than pushed onto the hood or to the side. Studies have shown that front blind zones associated with large trucks and SUVs have contributed to the injury and death of hundreds of children across the country.

So, if we have all this data exposing killer vehicle designs, why are automakers still allowed to produce ever-expanding trucks and SUVs? Part of the reason is lack of regulation. Traditionally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration assigns safety ratings to new cars and trucks by placing two crash test dummies inside the car and slamming it into a wall at high speed. But this system only assesses the risk to car occupants – not the risk to vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists.

Recently, NHTSA said it would update its New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), also known as a five-star safety rating, to include advanced driver assistance system features such as automatic emergency braking, blind spot detection, and lane keep assist. But the agency has not yet taken into account the car’s design – especially size – in its evaluation, which has sparked outrage.

“It is clear that the increasing volume of vehicles in the U.S. fleet is costing pedestrians their lives,” Harkey 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.”

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