SUVs Are Still More Likely To Kill Pedestrians

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Image: Jalopnik/Jason Torchinsky

After a report last year confirming that pedestrian deaths in America are continuing to trend upward while total vehicle-related deaths are on a slight decline, the IIHS set out to investigate this trend with a sharper eye. The institute took a sample of 79 crashes from three urban populations of Michigan in 2018, and found a significantly greater risk of death if pedestrians were impacted by an SUV rather than a car.


Here’s what the study found:

In the Michigan crashes, SUVs caused more serious injuries than cars when impacts occurred at greater than 19 miles per hour. At speeds of 20-39 mph, 3 out of 10 crashes with SUVs (30 percent) resulted in a pedestrian fatality, compared with 5 out of 22 for cars (23 percent). At 40 mph and higher, all three crashes with SUVs killed the pedestrian (100 percent), compared with 7 out of 13 crashes involving cars (54 percent). Below 20 miles per hour there was little difference between the outcomes, with pedestrians struck by either vehicle type tending to sustain minor injuries.


Perhaps more important than the outright numbers is the type of resulting injury pattern caused by each vehicle type.

However, the injury patterns were consistent with earlier, national studies in showing that SUVs were more likely than cars to throw pedestrians forward and nearly twice as likely to cause severe hip and thigh injuries. These injuries were mainly caused by impacts with the bumper, grille or headlights. That’s likely because the high point of the front profile or “leading edge” of most new SUVs is still considerably higher than that of the average car.


In a crash with a traditional, block-front SUV, the grille strikes the pedestrian’s pelvis or chest split seconds after the bumper hits the lower extremities, transferring more energy to the pedestrian’s body. It’s possible that a more sloping profile could do less damage.


Obviously this is an outrageously small sample size that could probably have been researched over the course of an afternoon over a cup of coffee. But what it does do is confirm that these rolling behemoths some of you call daily drivers can literally be more lethal weapons than other cars. As cars, trucks, and SUVs get larger, pedestrians don’t stand a chance.


Over the 9 years from 2009 to 2018 pedestrian deaths in America ballooned 53 percent. In the course of that same timeframe, SUVs grew from 21 percent to 29 percent of the national passenger vehicle fleet. There is an inference of causation in that correlation.

IIHS says that as vehicle deaths continue to fall with advances in tech and safety, and pedestrian deaths continue to grow with taller and heavier vehicles, ped deaths now account for almost one fifth of all traffic fatalities. That proportion hasn’t been that bad for people on foot for nearly forty years. Couple that with an increase in people choosing to walk to work, and you have a 28 year high for overall pedestrian deaths.


Knowing that by buying an SUV you’re potentially endangering the life of someone you’ve never met, does that impact any part of your rationale for buying said SUV in the first place? Maybe it should.