Blind spots in SUVs, vans, and vans are harmful to pedestrian health

Zoom / Driver turns left at intersection.

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It’s a dangerous time to be on American roads, and this is especially true if you’re on foot.

The number of pedestrian deaths on our roads has risen by more than 50 percent in a decade, and it looks like it Maybe last year was worse From 2020. The problem is complex, with road design, poor standards of driving training, and inadequate enforcement of existing traffic laws contributing to the high death toll.

But New study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found out why drivers of some types of vehicles are disproportionately likely to hit pedestrians. Previous research has shown that cars are safer for pedestrians than light-duty trucks, an umbrella category that includes SUVs, vans, and vans (small or otherwise). There has been speculation that the high fronts of these vehicles are likely to deform pedestrians.

The IIHS study identifies another factor. Wen Ho, IIHS Senior Transportation Engineer and Vice President for Research at the International Institute of Health Sciences, Jessica Cecchino, looked at collision data from North Carolina (from 2010 to 2018) and data from the National Fatality Analysis Reporting System, or FARS, (from 2014 to 2018) to try to understand the problem.

North Carolina

Data from North Carolina (which excluded non-passenger vehicles), showed, perhaps unsurprisingly, that 63.6 percent of 5,505 single-vehicle crashes and pedestrians at intersections occurred at crosswalks. The majority of these accidents – 37.6 percent – occurred when the car was turning.

The data showed that drivers of pickup trucks, vans, trucks and SUVs were more likely to hit pedestrians when turning left through a lane at an intersection than a person driving a car. But pickup drivers were no more or less likely to hit pedestrians than a motorist was in other scenarios at intersections (vehicle traveling straight across the pedestrian walkway, a vehicle turning right through the crosswalk, or pedestrian rushing into a street).

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In 7,628 non-intersection collisions, drivers of minivans, trucks, vans, and SUVs were more likely to hit a person walking along the road than motorists, with pickups more likely.


Between 2014 and 2018, FARS recorded 5,797 fatal intersection accidents involving one passenger vehicle and one pedestrian, with 14,148 other accidents at non-intersection locations.

At intersections, FARS data showed a higher percentage of accidents involving a pedestrian crossing the road by a driver who was not turning (53.9 percent), followed by a pedestrian being killed while crossing the road by a turning driver. Of those two turns, 75.5 percent occurred during left turns. Here, the data showed that light-truck vehicles were significantly over-represented in left-turn accidents. Drivers of pickups and SUVs also have much higher odds than cars or minivans of killing a pedestrian while traveling straight or turning right through a crosswalk intersection.

For fatal crashes without an intersection with pedestrians, the nationwide data showed the same as in North Carolina — footpaths were the deadliest for pedestrians, followed by people walking or running along the road. Again, drivers of pickup trucks and SUVs had significantly higher odds of killing a pedestrian or running along the road than motorists, and there was no difference between vehicle types in accidents that killed a pedestrian who sped off the road.


IIHS identifies a possible culprit – larger and thicker A-pillars (the struts that frame the windshield and support the front of the roof). “It is possible that the size, shape, and location of the A-pillars that support the roof on both sides of the windshield may make it difficult for drivers of these large vehicles to see pedestrians crossing when they are turning,” Hu said.

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Ironically, the problem may be partly of IIHS making. When Ars visited IIHS crash test center in 2019The organization was proud of the fact that the auto industry had responded to the most stringent rollover test. In order to protect occupants during a rollover, OEMs had to strengthen their A-pillars for pass-through. This resulted in safer cars for its occupants, but at the cost of poor visibility – and possibly more pedestrian deaths.

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