Federal Safety Officials Knew SUV Design Kills Pedestrians and Didn’t Act

Photo:  Rebranding Driving
Photo: Rebranding Driving

As pedestrian deaths have soared in the U.S., the message most Americans hear is that people on foot only have themselves to blame.

Helped along by public officials willing to publish unsubstantiated hokum about “drunk pedestrians,” media outlets like the Today Show made “distracted walking” out to be the real public safety threat.

More recently, solid research has identified very different causes contributing to the rise in pedestrian fatalities. A recent report by the Insurance Institute for Auto Safety found that the growth in SUV sales explains a significant share of the increase in pedestrian deaths.

Now an excellent investigative report by the Detroit Free Press and USA Today reveals how the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration knew about the risks of SUVs for years — and did nothing.

A 2015 NHTSA report reviewed a range of research showing that people are two to three times more likely to be killed when struck by an SUV than by a typical passenger car. For children, there’s an even greater four-fold disparity in mortality. The finding “has not been widely shared,” the papers report.

That year, SUV sales overtook sales of sedans in the U.S., continuing a decade-long trend.

At around the same time, the NHTSA did announce a plan to score vehicles on pedestrian safety, but the safety rating for people outside the vehicle never took hold. In Europe, automakers must meet pedestrian impact standards, which has never been the case in the U.S.

The new score was supposed be added this year but has gone nowhere under the Trump administration, the Freep reports:

NHTSA did not respond to questions about what caused the delay, although the agency has been without a permanent administrator since President Donald Trump took office. In a statement to the Free Press this week, the agency said it is “working on a proposal for a standard that would require protection against head and leg injuries for pedestrians impacted by the front end of vehicles.”

An NHTSA official did say that the new standard will be discussed this summer — but the meeting hasn’t been scheduled.

  • Larry Littlefield


    “Federal safety regulators have known for years that SUVs, with their higher front-end profile, are at least twice as likely as cars to kill the walkers, joggers and children they hit, yet have done little to reduce deaths or publicize the danger.”

    There was, however, extensive discussion of the danger the posed to people in other motor vehicles many years ago. My daughter had a classmate whose mother was killed when her small car was T-boned by an SUV in the 1990s and its bumper came through the window.

    At the time, it was predicted that SUV-caused deaths would soar once older ones were passed down as used to young, inexperienced drives and middle aged SUV drivers got old. So they lowered the front end profile of many SUVs in response, and the soaring death rate didn’t happen as feared among drivers. But it apparently has turned up among pedestrians.

  • William Lawson

    Don’t be forget those stupid bull bars, which have been shown to increase the chance of a child dying in a collision tenfold. Whenever you see someone driving an SUV with bull bars, feel free to categorize them as a child killing piece of shit in your mind.

  • Matt Random Nobody

    Bigger cars (trucks, SUVs, minivans) are much more profitable for the auto makers than small cars. In fact, they’re so much more profitable that the auto makers have been pushing them for years, and build their business models around them.

    Bigger cars are deadlier. They’re worse for the environment. They require more parking. They’re unjustifiable in every way. Except to make profits for auto companies.

  • Anecdotally, I’ve seen more flipped over SUVs during accidents than any other type of vehicle. That’s a comment on their design as well as the type of driver they attract.

  • Have you noticed how many government officials have SUVs? A good start in New York , let’s have a petition to bar any government, elected and police to use SUVs. The council could also enact a law barring limousines Uber and other ehail from using SUVs .

  • Daniel

    and of course they got classified as “light trucks” to exempt them from tailpipe and performance regulations–nice subsidy, if you can get it


In New NHTSA Report, Scarce Information on Causes of Pedestrian Deaths

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported last December that while overall traffic fatalities in the United States dropped in 2010, pedestrian deaths rose higher – up four percent in 2010 over 2009. Yesterday, the agency released some more detailed statistics about those crashes [PDF], but the report includes scarcely any data or analysis about the underlying […]