Safety Board Responds to Ped Crash Crisis

Photo: Transportation for America
Photo: Transportation for America

Cars need better headlights. Cars need to be better designed. Cars need less space.

These are some of the recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board after examining the 50-percent spike in pedestrian crashes since 2009.

It’s the agency’s first serious examination of pedestrian deaths in two decades.

The full report isn’t out yet, but a summary [PDF] offers 11 recommendations for the CDC, the Federal Highway Administration and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, such as:

#1. States must pay more attention and provide more money to pedestrian planning

A 10-year-old Federal Highway Administration program that improves pedestrian safety should be expanded nationally — and better funded, the NTSB says. “States and cities would benefit from resources, tools, and funding support to develop and implement effective plans.”

These pedestrian safety action plans would cost peanuts compared to the billions states pour into highway infrastructure. Massachusetts is ahead of this particular curve, but the federal government isn’t doing its part.

#2. Better headlights

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has been shining a light on dim headlights for years, and now NTSB’s investigation confirms the problem. Three quarters of pedestrian fatalities occur at night and any suburban areas do not have adequate street lighting, so  NTSB wants headlights to be brighter. NTSB is also calling for the feds to undo regulations that bar some higher-tech headlights such as ones that automatically adjust to the light conditions.

#3. Better data on pedestrian activity and crashes

NTSB says it is difficult to study pedestrian crashes and injuries because of gaps in the federal data, which should include a “complete range of crash types” so state officials can target resources where they are most needed. For example, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration should work with the Centers for Disease Control to combine the crash data with injury data so planners can get a clearer picture of the problem.

#4. Potentially redesigning the front end of cars

Finally, the agency recommends exploring changes to the body of vehicles aimed at “incorporating pedestrian safety into hood and bumper designs.” High-riding SUVs have become a much bigger part of the U.S. vehicle fleet over the last decade. And studies have shown they are much more deadly for pedestrians — two or three times on average — in part because they hit pedestrians higher on the body and may push them under the wheels instead of onto the hood.

NTSB recommends better testing of auto design, which could lead to safer vehicle shape. These kinds of measures have already been implemented in Europe.

In addition, the Obama Administration in 2016 recommended federal safety regulators at least establish safety rankings for vehicles based on pedestrian impacts. But the Trump Administration has refused, following pushback from automakers, as the Detroit Free Press reported as part of a package of stellar stories on the subject. NTSB, in its report, again recommends that the pedestrian safety ranking proceed.

“The public would benefit from knowing that the model vehicle they are considering for purchase has pedestrian-safe design characteristics, and their choices could in turn affect the implementation of pedestrian safety systems in new car designs,” the organization wrote.

Some foreign automakers, like Toyota, have been receptive to the pedestrian safety rankings, the Free Press reports.

  • Larry Littlefield

    While driving, on the other hand, I find that today’s headlights are right in my eyes even without the highbeams on. Perhaps because all those FUVs ride higher. Another reason not to drive at night anymore, particularly in the rain.

  • crazytrainmatt

    I remember the headlight problems starting around 2000 where fancy cars started getting xenon bulbs and now LED. Same incentives as for SUVs: makes the consumer feel safer at a cost to everyone else. It’s a race to the bottom unless the government steps in to regulate or the industry can come to a gentleman’s’ agreement.

    Redesigning front ends is well overdue (and subject to the same problem: the beneficiary is not the consumer), but how about outlawing those bull bars that everyone in NYC seems to have?

  • Stephen Simac

    ‘potentially redesigning the front end of cars”. What a weasel worded abdication of responsibility from the National Highway Transportation “Safety” Administration. How about allow car manufacturers to be sued for damages their vehicles cause when used as designed.

  • All personal automobiles should be golf carts.

    This is the best way to ensure the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists, until automated vehicles get rid of the dangerous human driver altogether.

  • rwy

    Brainstorming ideas, and gathering more data is good. But what really needs to happen is for voters and politicians to care about traffic safety.

  • meyerweb

    There’s been some interesting research on pedestrian behavior. It seems that whenever steps are taken to make pedestrians safer (traffic lights, speed humps, wider or lighted crosswalks, lower speed limits, etc) pedestrians react by taking MORE risks.

    The same is true of car drivers. Safety features like ABS, automatic braking, lane warnings, multiple airbags, etc. lead driver to drive faster, follow closer, and be more likely to blow through yellow lights.

    We seem to have an inner level of risk tolerance, and will continue to accept that level of risk no matter what.

  • meyerweb

    And then pedestrians will be even more likely to walk out into the middle of the street, assuming the automated vehicle won’t hit them.

  • That is an assumption that will be correct. I as a bicyclist and a pedestrian like my chances of being seen by the sensors of an automated vehicle much more than by some incompetent driver who is texting or eating or dozing off.

  • Ethan

    Even a golf cart can’t stop instantaneously. Step in front of it when it’s too close because you’re busy texting and you’ll still get knocked to the ground.

  • MTW

    But you probably won’t die. Which I think is his point

  • Right. Restricting human-powered vehicles to the power of a golf cart would minimise — though not completely eliminate — the risk to the more vulnerable road users.

  • 1soReal

    The only way the car owner would value safer front end design for pedestrians is if insurance companies factor it in their rates..and/or state DMV’s make them cheaper to register etc.

  • crazytrainmatt

    This is certainly a real effect, but clearly progress can be made as European countries have 5-10-fold lower injury and fatality rates than the US and the multi-decade downward trend shows no sign of stopping.

  • jcwconsult

    US vehicle lighting rules have been grossly inferior to European rules for more than 50 years. European rules for car design to be “friendlier” in pedestrian crashes are superior to US rules. If the US scrapped the FMVSS (Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards) and emission rules in favor of adopting the European rules, we would be ahead in many ways.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    Actual 85th percentile vehicle speeds on freeways are about 10 mph faster today than in the late 1950s when they were first built for 70 mph as a minimum requirement. That reflects better vehicles and roadway designs.
    Actual 85th percentile speeds on rural two lane highways are less than 10 mph faster than in about 1940. That reflects better vehicles and roadway designs.
    Actual 85th percentile speeds on urban collectors and arterials are less than five mph faster than 50+ years ago – if the roadway designs have not changed.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  • jcwconsult

    Adopt the European rules. That is terribly simple and effective.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

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