A new report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has found that “the number of pedestrians killed in accidents involving SUVs” has increased by a shocking 81% in the last ten years, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that total pedestrian fatalities have increased by about 50% in the last ten years.
Overall, fatalities on U.S. highways have increased slightly after about ten years of decline, and there are multiple potential factors in the recent shift, such as higher speed-limits in some areas and increasing problems with distracted driving nationwide. However, the IIHS’s report also points to the increasing number of SUVs in the country and suggests that their design may potentially make them deadlier in pedestrian-related accidents than regular cars.
“SUVs have higher front ends, and often the design for the vehicle is much more vertical than passenger cars,” says IIHS President David Harkey, resulting in more blunt and direct impact in an accident than shorter passenger cars.
While light trucks now account for about two-thirds of new U.S. vehicles and SUVs account for about half of all auto sales, the NHTSA has also linked a rise in pedestrian-fatalities to an increase in distracted driving, which is now the primary factor in an estimated 10% of all highway fatalities. “We’ve got distracted drivers and we’ve got distracted pedestrians, and that is a deadly combination,” said auto analyst Rebecca Lindland shortly after the 2017 statistics for pedestrian-fatalities were released.
Fortunately, automakers are searching for innovative ways to make our roads safer for drivers and pedestrians alike, as more and more vehicles now have forward-collision warning systems to immediately alert drivers to potential accidents, and more advanced systems can even apply the brakes automatically when necessary. City planners are also turning to specialized, local solutions: Honolulu is cracking down on distracted pedestrians who use their mobile devices while walking in intersections; Detroit has seen a decrease in pedestrian-fatalities after a city-wide campaign to repair malfunctioning streetlights; and New York City is improving its traffic-enforcement in areas with high rates of pedestrian-accidents while addressing the fundamental designs of certain “problem intersections.”
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