Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) are the automotive darling of this century, growing in popularity as safe and secure for occupants, but are killing machines for other vulnerable road users. The SUV rides high above the road to give drivers good visibility. I have been writing about how SUVs and trucks which make up 60 percent of all vehicle purchases have been responsible for a 46 percent increase in pedestrian deaths.
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 into the vehicle ranking system was halted by opposing automakers. Writer and city planner Angie Schmitt has just written the excellent book “Right of Way” which details how road deaths in the United States have increased with rising sales of the SUV.
SUVs are also ‘Climate killers’. There has been little progress on reducing road transport carbon emissions in Europe, comprising 27% of all emissions. While the automobile industry blames regulators for turning away from diesel (lower in carbon but more toxic) regulators blame the lack of progress on SUVs “driven by carmakers’ aggressive marketing”.
Yet none of these factors have deterred the auto industry in marketing bigger, larger, more den-like SUVs with all kinds of driver assisted systems and even a 38 inch OLED screen.
The Verge’s Andrew Hawkins details his day driving the new 2021 Cadillac Escalade. It is the size of a small boat, nearly 18 feet or 5.5 meters long and nearly 6. 5 feet or nearly two meters high. It is bigger and longer than the model from the previous year and as Mr. Hawkins duly notes, is called by Cadillac ““the largest and longest Escalade ever.”
But there’s more.
“Sitting in the driver’s seat, it’s easy to feel disconnected from the outside world — mostly because you can’t see a lot of it. The grille was like a sheer cliffside, obstructing my view several feet out in front of the wheels. An entire kindergarten class could be lined up in front of this vehicle and I wouldn’t see them.”
He used social media to send out images of his three year old son in front of the grill of this SUV to show how impossible it was to see a child in front of this vehicle. Mr. Hawkins also referenced this sobering study produced by WTHR News in Indianapolis last year which shows how huge the “blind spot” in front of SUVs are. And the Escalade had the longest blind spot. In the horrifying video attached to this article news reporters had a group of crosslegged school children sit down in front of the SUV in a line, and kept adding school children until the driver could see them.
“The Escalade had the largest front blind spot of 10 feet, two inches, with the driver sitting in a natural, relaxed position. It took 13 children seated in a line in front of the Escalade before the driver could see the tops of their heads.”
The SUV drivers had no idea that the blind spot in front of the SUVs they drove was so large. While some SUVs have front cameras in their vehicles, that is not in every vehicle, and as stated on WTHR News some of the drivers never used it. Meanwhile the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration pinpoints an 81 percent increase in pedestrian deaths in the last ten years to SUV drivers.
You would think the fact that these oversized vehicles are more fatal to pedestrians would be alarming enough that these vehicles would be scaled down. But instead of looking at shrinking these moving behemoths, the auto industry has installed more alarms, cameras, and driver comforts as if to mitigate the fatalities.
In 2018 58 children were killed by these SUVs and 3,000 injured in the United States in “frontovers”. This describes where drivers in slow moving SUVs in driveways and parking lots inadvertently rolled over children in the vehicle’s huge front blind spot.
There’s a direct dissonance between the fatalities and maiming caused by SUV’s and the auto maker market response for bigger and bigger vehicles.
The “exterior designer” for Cadillac cars stated “Our customers really enjoy and demand that space for their passengers and for themselves. So growing the vehicle felt very appropriate to accommodate our particular customers and to hopefully gain more.”
What is more important? Buying big vehicles or saving vulnerable road user lives?