We seem obsessed with bigger is better in vehicle purchases, with over 1.4 million sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and crossovers sold in the first three months of 2018 in the United States. The 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.
Trucks and SUVs comprise 60 percent of new vehicle purchases in the United States. From 2009 to 2016 pedestrian deaths have risen 46 percent and are directly linked to the increase of these larger vehicles on the road.
Statistics show that SUVs with the high front end grille are 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 rates into the vehicle ranking system was halted by opposing automakers.
When a SUV hits a pedestrian the vehicle hits a person’s internal organs; in a lower profile vehicle or sedan the vehicle is striking at the knees. SUVs also have more powerful engines and SUV drivers exhibit riskier higher speed behaviours which researcher Kelcie Ralph says is an ongoing trend in North American culture.
We’ve seen cities like Berlin actively discuss banning SUVS after a SUV driver in Berlin lost control of his vehicle and killed four people on a sidewalk, a grandmother and grandson and two twenty year old men.
Think about how radical even suggesting a municipal ban on SUVs is~car manufacturers design vehicles for the safety of the occupants, not for the safety of a vulnerable road user that might be crashed into and killed by the vehicle. Talking about banning these killing machines is a new way at looking at the problem and a 180 degree shift from what vehicle manufacturers have been saying for over 100 years.
The auto industry has historically maintained that vehicle drivers are not the problem, but pedestrians are.
Look at the creation of the class laden word “jaywalker” first used in 1917 to describe “an idiot, dull, rube, unsophisticated, poor, or simpleton”. A jaywalker described someone who was “stupid by crossing the street in an unsafe place or way, or some country person visiting the city who wasn’t used to the rules of the road”.
Today the jaywalker myth is perpetuated in “educational” campaigns that say pedestrian distraction is a function in pedestrian deaths. Studies prove that it is not, although the focus on saying pedestrian distraction is a problem takes the onus off the real culprit~the automobile manufacturers and the vehicle drivers.
This compendium report by the New York City Department of Transportation shows that while pedestrians using a mobile device walk slower and increase their crossing time, they are still faster crossing than those walking in group or senior citizens. Instead New York City is targeting drivers’ unsafe speed or behaviours by expanding their speed camera program, undertaking street safety redesign, and installing leading pedestrian intervals.
And this research review just published in Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives shows that one-third of transportation planners erroneously think distracted walking is a problem and want to support pedestrian education campaigns instead of slowing speeds. The report authored by Dr. Kelcie Ralph and Dr. Ian Girardeau show that headphones do not impact walking and that distracted people are actually more likely to stay in the crosswalk.
Talking on the phone or texting while walking has the same impact as the perceptions of a person over 65 crossing the street. In their review, Dr. Ralph and Dr. Girardeau found that the people most likely to be hit crossing the street were people that could not change their crossing speed. There is no correlation between distracted use of the phone and deaths in studies in campus towns where cell phone use is rampant. As Dr. Ralph states “Beware of publication bias and hype” that prefers to victim blame.
As the researchers point out: “Concern about distracted walking detracts attention from more deadly risk factors, more effective policy approaches, and, most importantly, is inconsistent with the ethos of making streets safe for all users, including children, the elderly, and vision impaired people. Instead of focusing on educational campaigns, practitioners should focus their pedestrian safety efforts on the biggest risk factors and the most effective solutions.”
This recommendation goes directly into the Safe Systems Approach based on the principle that life and health should not be compromised by our need to travel. Risk factors include road design, vehicular speed, driver inattention, use of alcohol/drugs and the type of vehicle using the road. This is also the mantra of Vision Zero where no serious injuries or road deaths arise from the shared use of the road.
With the Safe Systems Approach the cities of Minneapolis and Seattle have lowered speeds within city limits to 20 miles per hour (30 km/h) and the Province of British Columbia has installed speed cameras at high crash intersections.
The City of London England has banned trucks with severely limited cab visibility that were responsible for 70 percent of cyclist deaths, and implemented congestion charges to lower the number of vehicles entering the inner city.
Meanwhile, the automotive manufacturers continue to design and develop larger and larger vehicles, marketing them as safe moveable dens for the occupants, with no standards to ensure the safety of people outside the vehicle.
The video below describes the new 2021 Dodge Durango, which will “catapult your family from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 3.5 seconds” with 710 horsepower from a 6.2 litre V8 engine.