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Pedestrian Deaths up Nearly 50% – Are SUVs to Blame?

New research was recently revealed that clearly suggests pedestrians are in greater danger now than they were a few short years ago. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) study has determined that the number of pedestrian deaths has soared to a 28-year high. Across the country, almost 6,000 pedestrians were killed in 2016. That’s an increase of almost half (46%) in the past 7 years and the most pedestrian fatalities since 1990.

Factors that led to the increase, according to the Institute, include:

  • A large number of pedestrian deaths occur at dusk or after dark.
  • They happen primarily on suburban or urban “feeder” roads into freeways, or on freeways themselves.
  • There has been a surge in popularity over the last 30 years of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) – with their obstructed views of the roadway immediately in front of their vehicle.
  • Vehicles are often speeding at the time of the accident.

The 5,987 pedestrians who died in crashes in 2016 represented around 16% of all traffic deaths that year.


This study is seen by many as the culmination of several other research projects over the years which call attention to the overall dangers of SUVs to pedestrians.

University of Michigan researchers found back in 2015 that pedestrians are more than three times as likely to be killed when struck by an SUV than if struck by a traditional passenger vehicle. Primary reasons for their conclusion included the overall size and general design of SUVs.  The data suggested that their high profile, coupled with the lowering of the driver’s seat (compared to the heightened position of a pickup truck), creates a significant blind spot immediately in front of the vehicle, making it more difficult for the driver to see in a small but critically obstructed viewing area.

Researchers at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, warned about this very flaw in the  design of SUVs back in 2003. Clay Gabler, chief researcher for the Rowan report warned that the number of pedestrians killed by SUVs would continue to rise if this condition was not addressed.  “Pedestrians are losing the safety battle,” the report stated. “Despite over 4,000 pedestrian deaths a year [in 2002], there are no pedestrian impact safety regulations under serious consideration in the US.”  Years later, these problems remain unresolved by the U.S. auto industry. And from an earnings perspective, why wouldn’t they?

In 2002, The New York Times published a scathing report by its Detroit automotive writer and bureau chief Keith Bradsher. In his story “High and Mighty,” Bradsher asked, “Why are big square-nosed SUVs still everywhere? Because they sell: those front end features that kill and maim pedestrians are popular with consumers.”

He also pointed out in that same article that SUV drivers are demographically similar to minivan drivers but are more “self-oriented” psychologically.” SUV drivers are also, according to Bradsher’s article, “more fearful of crime, less likely to be involved in their communities, and less committed to their families.”

Two years earlier, in 2000, DaimlerChrysler Director of Market Research David Bostwick told Bradsher that for SUV buyers, ”[i]t’s not safety as the issue, it’s aggressiveness, it’s the ability to go off the road.” Other researchers also conclude that SUV owners drive faster and place a lower value on being courteous on the road.

So even though road conditions and the time of day may account for a portion of the alarming rise in pedestrian deaths, it appears that a significant share of the blame goes to overly aggressive SUV drivers who think they’re “king of the road.”


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