SUV Explosion & Pedestrian Fatalities Linked, New Study Finds

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Sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are all the rage. Sport? Well, not really. In fact, most of them never leave the comfort of paved roads. Utility? Sometimes, once or twice a year, or you could include kids in that definition. Vehicles? Definitely, they are vehicles, and lot of them! So much so that SUVs have become Detroit’s bread and butter for decades. It’s more profitable building big heavy cars than it is building fuel-efficient vehicles. This explains carmakers’ reluctance to let go of this cash flow waterfall.

SUVs, Profits, & SUV-Caused Pedestrian Death Tolls

In certain cultures, the thought of carrying the fridge and the kitchen sink in your vehicle is a ridiculous notion. We often hears Europeans in wonder about how Americans eat in cars in the U.S., put on makeup, drink, and more. They get frightened seeing enormous SUVs and pickup trucks swirling and zig-zagging. The driver looks spastic trying to handle out-of-control kids, road condition, and various other life-threatening situations, including yours and my life.

The marketing logic behind the SUV craze? If I’m in a big metal car, I will have more chances of surviving a collision than if I’m in a small car. Well, maybe, but not when everyone does the same thing and two SUVs collide. Plus, taking anyone’s life, such as the regular occurrence of SUVs sideswiping pedestrians at busy intersections, ain’t cool. Additionally, SUVs are more susceptible to rolling over, which is a highly dangerous form of accident.

Of course, if more people buy big vehicles, that means better profits for carmakers, damn the consequences. If it is good for carmakers, laws will be bent, lobbies will apply pressures to allow these polluting, dangerous, bloated, and highly inefficient cars to be made and on the road. Unfortunately, the SUV-caused pedestrian death toll has grown in line with Detroit’s finances.

The US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) points to a correlation between popularity of SUVs and a dramatic rise in pedestrian deaths. In a newly published report, the site notes: “The March crash of an Uber vehicle that killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona, was … typical of fatal pedestrian crashes: an SUV traveling on an urban arterial road struck a person crossing midblock in the dark.” In other words, it seems that the SUV that didn’t see the pedestrian and killed that person is a more common occurrence then we are led to believe in the news. It was “typical” as the IIHS said.

SUV Pedestrian Death Toll

Pedestrian deaths have jumped 46% since their lowest point, which was in 2009, and SUVs are now being sold in record numbers, adding more emissions to an already highly precarious environmental condition. To make things worse, pedestrian crashes have become both deadlier and more frequent, mostly in urban or suburban areas, at non-intersections, on busy arterial roads that were designed to ease traffic congestion, and, of course, in the dark. Crashes are increasingly likely to involve SUVs and high-horsepower vehicles.

To put things into perspective, 5,987 pedestrians were killed in crashes in 2016, raising the number up to 16% of all crash fatalities. If we go back far enough, the number of annual pedestrian deaths has actually improved. Yearly pedestrians fatalities have declined 20% since 1975. However, the 2016 death toll was the highest since 1990.

According to IIHS President David Harkey: “Understanding where, when and how these additional pedestrian crashes are happening can point the way to solutions. This analysis tells us that improvements in road design, vehicle design and lighting and speed limit enforcement all have a role to play in addressing the issue.”

Making Sense Of the SUV Pedestrian Death Toll & Learning To Shut Off Marketing

This new study found that pedestrian crash trends between 2009 and 2016 increased dramatically. It went through exhaustive resources involving federal fatality data, crash numbers, roadway conditions, environmental factors, personal factors, and vehicle factors, as well as changes in the number of pedestrian deaths relative to the number of pedestrians involved in crashes and more.

SUV Pedestrian Death TollThe question remains — do we need that much cargo space for just in case? Why not rent for that once or twice a year haul? What justifies keeping up with the costs of a big vehicle, insurance, parking, wear & tear, gasoline, maintenance, and awful gas mileage? This SUV–pedestrian death toll is simply carmakers’ arrogance nurturing a market and business model that is not aligned with our actual needs. But marketing sells.

Sometimes we just need to tune out marketing that prays on fears and buy what we need, not what helps companies’ bottom lines. Companies are here to help us, not the other way around. If carmakers can’t find ways to make profits building and selling electric cars and have to rely on SUVs at the ghastly price of pedestrian deaths and pollution, then surely they are not needed.

You can keep up with the latest IIHS developments on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.

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Nicolas Zart

Nicolas was born and raised around classic cars of the 1920s, but it wasn't until he drove an AC Propulsion eBox and a Tesla Roadster that the light went on. Ever since he has produced green mobility content on various CleanTech outlets since 2007 and found his home on CleanTechnica. He grew up in an international environment and his communication passion led to cover electric vehicles, autonomous vehicles, renewable energy, test drives, podcasts, shoot pictures, and film for various international outlets in print and online. Nicolas offers an in-depth look at the e-mobility world through interviews and the many contacts he has forged in those industries. His favorite taglines are: "There are more solutions than obstacles." and "Yesterday's Future Now"

Nicolas Zart has 572 posts and counting. See all posts by Nicolas Zart