While many cities have undertaken initiatives to make it safer and more convenient for walking and biking, the motor industry has been selling bigger and larger vehicles, with over 1.4 million Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and crossovers being sold in the United States in the first quarter of 2018. What is the difference between these two categories? A SUV is a vehicle built on a truck platform, while a crossover is a unibody construction on a car platform, and is supposed to be more maneuverable and parkable. Both of these are large vehicles and are outselling sedans.
Indeed trucks and SUVs comprise 60 percent of the new vehicle purchases in the United States, and have been contributing to an increasing proportion of pedestrian deaths. From 2009 to 2016 pedestrian deaths have risen 46 percent and are directly linked to the increase of these large vehicles on the road.
Statistics show that SUVs with the high front end grille is twice as likely to kill pedestrians because of the high engine profile, but this information has not been well publicized. In the United States a federal initiative to include pedestrian crash survival into the vehicle ranking system was halted by opposing automakers.
So why are people buying these large vehicles?
As this report suggests the larger size “is ideal for families, who appreciate the space to carry more passengers as well as haul modern-day cargo from groceries to IKEA furniture. Their larger size also provides a higher level of safety. Drivers also appreciate sitting higher in the vehicle, which can give a better vantage point for maneuvering the vehicle. And for drivers who live in harsh climates, SUVs and Crossovers offer a rugged build and all-wheel drive that handles better in the snow than smaller cars do.”
It is all about the driver experience and nothing about the pedestrian or cyclist survival after being hit by these vehicles. As the NPR reports in 2018 pedestrian deaths in the United States reached a 28 year high with 6,227 pedestrians killed in crashes. That is 4 percent more than 2017, and is roughly equivalent to the population of Yarmouth Nova Scotia.
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) directly links pedestrian deaths to the SUVs noting that their involvement in fatal crashes has increased by 50 percent since 2013. These SUVs “cause more severe pedestrian injuries and make up an increasingly large percentage of registered vehicles”. The GHSA also clearly identify the popularity of SUVs and trucks as more likely to kill a pedestrian due to the size and weight differential.
But automobile companies are selling a product, and the current promotions for large trucks and SUVS are selling an “experience”. Trucks are being sold as the perfect city/country vehicle for a whole range of hardy people. Take a look at the YouTube video below which usurps an old Donny and Marie Osmond song to peddle trucks to cowboys, soldiers, construction workers, musicians and horse fanciers. It’s not about sustainability and doing right by the environment, it is about power, speed, the outdoors and being rugged.
And you will notice there is not one pedestrian in sight.