WRONG! Safety Officials Think Tech Gadgets Will Save Pedestrians from Monster SUVs

Photo:  IIHS
Photo: IIHS

Traffic safety officials, under pressure to do something amount the mounting epidemic of pedestrian deaths, are making some tentative first moves to force carmakers to prioritize safety for those on foot.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced it would begin testing pedestrian-detection systems and assigning ratings to vehicles based on their performance. The group hopes to encourage automakers to make such equipment standard, which could reduce crashes as much as 35 percent.

Unfortunately, it appears the group is ignoring the elephant in the room: The rise of SUVs, whose design itself is contributing to soaring pedestrians deaths. Indeed, the IIHS testing does not look at the impact of bumper height or shape or vehicle weight on pedestrians in crashes — but merely assesses the pedestrian-detection technology. In other words, even the leading traffic safety groups are not willing to warn the public about the inherent dangers of SUVs to pedestrians.

Of the 12 vehicles tested, four ended up being ranked “Superior” in the detection tests. Three are SUVs, even though SUVs are two-and-a-half to three times more likely to kill pedestrians than sedans, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A spokesman for IIHS said the pedestrian-detection technology is the greatest hope for saving the lives of the innocent because, alas, “SUVs and pickups are not going away.”

“IIHS has taken the position that technology is the most realistic way to reduce pedestrian risk from the vehicle side,” said the spokesman, Russ Rider.

The new ratings will be part of the IIHS’s “Top Safety Pick” rankings next year, which Automotive News calls a “highly coveted” distinction.

About a third of 2019 vehicles include the pedestrian-detection systems, which deploy sensors that apply the brakes automatically if they detect people. Another third of cars offered the system as an option. The IIHS says it reduced pedestrian crashes 35 percent on vehicles that have the system. The agency estimates it would reduce pedestrian crashes 65 percent if it were widely deployed and improved.

Meanwhile, there’s been no decisive action from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the federal agency responsible for regulating vehicle safety on protecting pedestrians. Some rules were proposed late in the Obama Administration that would have begun to phase in pedestrian safety impacts, but those rules have not moved forward under President Trump’s anti-regulatory Transportation Department.

Pedestrian deaths have increased almost 50 percent since 2009, which many advocates see as a national health emergency.

16 thoughts on WRONG! Safety Officials Think Tech Gadgets Will Save Pedestrians from Monster SUVs

  1. I believe that sticks, along with carrots, are needed to improve the behavior of drivers. For every pedestrian death, in the zip code in which it occurred, there should be 180 days when the theft, arson, and vandalism of automobiles are explicitly legalized. The property of drivers deserves no more regard than drivers themselves are willing to give the lives of other road users.

  2. I wonder if they are testing the reliability of the pedestrian detection systems? The second there is any fog or light mist the one in my car turns off, so it is only good on a bright sunny day when it is easy to see people.

  3. Pedestrian detection and auto-braking technology is very much part of the solution to reducing crashes with vulnerable road users. Ironically, I believe it’s only available with SUVs and CUVs (crossovers). Yes, if more people drove cars rather than light trucks, we’d see fewer ped/bike fatalities, but the market demand shows motorists prefer light trucks (SUVs,pickups, and vans).

  4. I have an idea Dave. How about after every pedestrian death people are no longer allowed to cross the road there? All it takes is one careless pedestrian to ruin it for everyone.

    Where did so many pedestrians learn to cross roads without looking both ways and yielding to moving traffic? How come pedestrians often won’t use crosswalks or grade-separated pedestrian facilities?

    How come such a high percentage of peds and bike riders killed in accidents are drugged or are legally intoxicated?

    How about we ban pedestrians and bicylists from drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, or doing heroin, which by itself would reduce pedestrian and cyclist deaths by 35%?

    The top way to avoid pedestrian deaths is to look both ways twice and yield to moving traffic before sauntering into the street. While you are safer crossing at a crosswalk on’t trust painted lines or colored lights to save you. Look at the driver’s eyes to see if they see and acknowledge you.

    If a driver is looking left and you are to their right they don’t see you. Often when a driver is looking left they are trying to turn right on red, which is legal. In some States left turn on red from a one-way street to a one-way street is legal too.

    As I have said before, SUVs, vans, and pickup trucks have been around for many years. There hasn’t been a sudden massive spike in their use that correlates to a sudden big increase in pedestrian deaths either.

    If you don’t want to get hit don’t jaywalk in front of moving traffic, which is how a high percentage of pedestrian accidents happen. Cars, buses, and trucks don’t stop on a dime. Pedestrians using extra caution will help reduce the number of pedestrian accidents too.

  5. Compared to conventional sedans and station wagons in equivalent classes, SUVs cost more, get poorer fuel economy, and handle less precisely with their higher centers of gravity. Conventional sedans and station wagons are a better buy for thinking consumers.
    James C. Walker, National Motorists Association

  6. Hey Mark – I don’t agree with Dave’s proposal either. But your victim blaming doesn’t solve anything and shows that you are naive about the causes of car vs. pedestrian collisions. Sure, in some cases pedestrian inattention is a contributing factor. But even completely attentive pedestrians are being struck crossing the street.

  7. @Mark Richardson

    Your post is illinformed. Most of the pedestrian deaths in San Francisco this year have been inside of crosswalks.

    SUVs have been an increasing part of our roads. In case you have forgotten, all of our “carmakers” have discontinued selling cars in the US to make SUVs or lite SUVs. SUVs have been designed to protect the occupants of the vehicle, not anyone that would be impacted outside of the vehicle in a collision – whether in a car or not.

    SUVs are higher than cars and the place of impact for a pedestrian would cause a life altering or fatal injury – SUVs will hit you in the head or internal organs. Cars would hit your legs.

    And even worse, more and more drivers are getting SUVs, when a different vehicle would suffice, because they don’t feel safe if they were to get into a collision with a fellow SUV.

  8. How do kids feel about their parents switching to SUVs that will kill them more easily if they try to ride their bike to school? Do they still respect age? Should they?

  9. Many full-size cars in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s had room for 6 adults and all their luggage, and had front ends as high as many of today’s midsize SUVs and small pickup trucks. Their front ends were made out of steel rather than plastic like lots of today’s cars.

    Before anyone disses my lack of knowledge I did have an entire career driving 18-wheel trucks in cities and somehow managed not to run anyone over too, though there were plenty of close calls. I also have a recent masters degree in urban & regional planning from a PAC-10 university. I have over 4 million miles of driving experience and ran city multistop freight in Chicago, Cleveland, and Detroit for many years.

    How much higher is the front end on an 18-wheel truck or on a city bus than on a mid-size SUV? Since 1970 the population of the US is up by more than 100 million and a higher percentage of US residents live in large urban areas than used to be the case too.

    This problem is not new either. How many of you SUV-haters are aware that just Detroit’s street trolleys averaged 30 pedestrian fatalities per-month in the 1920s?

    As cars keep getting smaller some people who are either large like I am (6’5″ and 350 lbs), have large families, have the need to haul more than small cars can haul, or operate in areas of the US where 4WD or AWD is a great advantage have been switching to SUVS, pickup trucks, or vans. That isn’t new either.

    I can’t even get into or out of most cars without being uncomfortable. My stepdad had a Lincoln Town Car that was hard to get into and out of. I use my Jeep Grand Cherokee to haul lumber and other building materials, I use it to tow trailers of up to 6000 lbs, I use to to drive right through 15 inches of unplowed snow no problem, and I use it to go 4-wheeling in the Rocky Mtns too in-addition to being my city car.

    My last 5 cars before my Grand Cherokee were either full-size or mid-size pickup trucks. The smallest one was my 1999 Dodge Dakota. The 2005 Dakota was bigger and had a bigger engine. I have also owned two full size vans that I used for personal transportation. If we go way back I used to own a 1972 Sedan Deville back when I was still skinny. I owned that car after I owned my first Dodge van, which I bought brand-new in 1978.

    I am not about to buy a tiny car that I can’t even get in or out of that doesn’t meet my needs as a homeowner nor as the parent of 2 sons now in their 20s either, both of whom are just as tall as I am. We also need a vehicle to tow our 27-foot travel trailer too.

    Here in Colorado as well as across the Great Plains States pickup trucks and full size vans have been in common use since the 1950s or even earlier. Growing up in Michigan in the 1960s and 1970s lots of people owned pickups, vans, full size cars, full-size station wagons, and even SUVs. Lots of people owned such vehicles when I lived in Cleveland in the 1980s too.

    How come pedestrian fatalities weren’t so out of control in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s when full size cars were bigger and heavier than mid-size SUVs today? Metro-Detroit had 5 million people in 1980 and a very high percentage of car or light truck ownership then too, higher than some cities have now in-fact.

    In 1975 the intersection of Woodward Ave and Eight Mile Rd, two surface boulevards, handled 240,000 vehicles per-day. Traffic was far heavier in Metro-Detroit in the 1970s than it is today. So what is causing this big increase in fatalities?

    Everyone is increasingly in a hurry as jobs keep paying less and less actual retail purchasing power while the cost of living keeps rising and rising. Lots of people are working two jobs these days just to make ends meet and they are often tired these days both driving and walking. In the 1960s and 1970s less people used to jaywalk across major roads than is the case today in my professional opinion.

    Today jaywalking is all too common. Various cities have spent millions of dollars building grade-separated pedestrian facilities and lots of peds would rather take their chances running across 8 lanes of moving traffic rather than walking 300 feet out of the way to a crosswalk or a grade-separated overpass or underpass. Everyone is tired and in a big hurry. It is a recipe for disaster.

    We can’t possibly make all roads a pedestrian free for all just because some people aren’t willing to walk 300 feet out of their way to get to a crosswalk. In most US cities 75-80% of all trips are by car, and 65-75% of all employment commuting is suburb to suburb and doesn’t even involve the central city. Many US cities have relatively poor public transit systems which only serve downtown-focused demand well. Moreover about 80% of all US land-based freight and 95% of food supply moves by truck too.

    If we drop urban speed limits by half to try to reduce pedestrian fatalities the cost of food and other consumer goods hauled by truck will rise substantially as trucking has both a cost per-distance and a cost per-time. Do be aware than we have already abandoned and dismantled 35% of US railroad mileage that existed in 1929 and since World War II US population is up by about 250%. Trains can’t haul fresh food within the limits of shelf-life.

    Would you rather get creamed by a 1965 Lincoln Town Car or a 2018 Toyota 4-Runner crossing the street? Both will kill you just as dead, as would either of my parent’s full-size Chrysler station-wagons from 1960s or 1970s too. Most mid-size SUVs today are actually smaller and lighter vehicles than were full size cars in the 1960s and 1970s. My 1972 Cadillac had a 472 V-8 and weighed over 6000 lbs. My 1964 Riviera had a 425 V-8 and weighed over 5000 lbs, and my mom’s 1972 Plymouth wagon had a 360 V-8 and weighed 5500 lbs too. My second van was a 1979 Dodge Maxivan with a 440 V-8. it could haul more than a ton.

    The main reason that people are switching away from cars to SUVs is because cars keep getting smaller and smaller and less and less able to meet car-owners needs. I am waiting for Jeep to come out with several promised PHEV hybrids in the 2020 and 2021 model year that I am hoping will still tow at-least 5000 lbs.

    If a car isn’t comfortable to drive, get in and out of, and isn’t able to meet my towing requirement, hauling requirements, seating requirements, and my 4WD/AWD requirement I won’t even look at it. Today and ever since the late 1980s the only vehicles that meet my needs are 4-door pickups and SUVs.

  10. Why fewer pedestrian fatalities in the 1960’2 and 70’s? Less traffic of all kinds. Less arrogant and more attentive, law-abiding drivers. I have been a pedestrian for over 60 years and a cyclist for 50+, I know how both traffic density and driver behavior have changed. Recently a friend sent me some pictures of a bike tour he took from Portland to SLC in 1964. Granted, Salt Lake isn’t Seattle or Chicago, but at noon hour on a weekday the Main Street by the big LDS temple had about four cars on it. People did drive less plus there was less population. As for car differences, big American sedans sat lower and I believe gave drivers a different feeling–comfort and elbow room rather than letting them look down on other traffic and give a feeling of dominance. Required reading for everyone: “High and Mighty” by Keith Bradsher.

  11. SUVs have poor visibility for any road hazard that is either close or under 3ft tall.

    Additionally something is broken if the best way to travel for trips under 2 miles, because of crappy and unsafe infrastructure, is a car. We need to fix that problem for public health, safety and climate reasons.

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