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Study: Modern SUVs still more likely than cars to kill pedestrians

Even as advances in safety features have brought the overall rate of traffic fatalities down, the number of pedestrians being killed on U.S. roads has risen over the last decade. Part of that could be the fact that SUVs have grown in popularity.

This is because, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, pedestrians are at greater risk from SUVs than from passenger cars.

Researchers from the Institute pored over a sample of 79 vehicle-pedestrian crashes in Michigan. This was a small sample size and a limited geographic region, so the study needs to be confirmed by other research, but what they found was interesting.

When a vehicle-pedestrian crash occurred at greater than 19 mph, SUVs caused more serious injuries than cars. As the speed of the collision rose, the percentage of fatality events was greater when the vehicle involved was an SUV as opposed to a passenger car. Below 20 mph there was little difference between the injuries.

  • At a speed of 20-39 mph, 30% of the crashes with SUVs resulted in a pedestrian fatality, as opposed to only 23% of crashes with cars.
  • At 40 mph and higher, all of the three recorded crashes involving SUVs resulted in a fatality, whereas only 54% of crashes involving cars resulted in the pedestrian’s death.

Previously, the Institute had found that, over the past decade or so, pedestrian crashes have become both more frequent and deadlier. Between 2009 and 2018, the number of pedestrians killed by motor vehicles jumped by 53%. Now, pedestrians make up almost 20% of all traffic fatalities.

At the same time, the percentage of SUVs in the U.S. passenger vehicle fleet rose from 21% to 29%. And, between 2009 and 2016, the rate of single-vehicle crashes involving an SUV and a pedestrian increased by 81%.

What could be responsible for the difference in severity?

SUVs are more likely than passenger cars to throw pedestrians forward. They are nearly twice as likely to cause serious injuries to the hips and thighs, which are mainly caused by an impact with the headlights, bumper or grille. The reason for the difference appears to be the SUV’s higher profile. The “leading edge” of even a modern SUV remains considerably higher than that of a car.

According to the Institute, a typical SUV’s grille will strike a pedestrian at pelvis or chest height just after the bumper strikes the lower leg. The Institute says it is possible that the injuries would be less serious if the SUVs’ profile were less blocky and more sloping.

If you or a loved one has been struck by an SUV, contact an experienced personal injury attorney about your legal rights.

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