Study: SUVS May Be Connected to Rising Pedestrian Deaths

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A new study suggests rising pedestrian deaths are correlated with the increasing popularity of heavy vehicles like SUVs and pickup trucks.

A new study published in the journal Economics of Transportation finds that the rise of “light trucks”—SUVs, minivans, and pickup trucks—in the US may be correlated with increases in pedestrian deaths from traffic crashes. According to a report by StreetsBlog, the study found that “as the number of SUVs on the street tripled from 2000 to 2019, pedestrian deaths surged nationwide by 30 percent.”

In a Twitter thread last week, the study’s author, University of Hawaii professor Justin Tyndall, said he estimates that from 2000-2019, “8,100 pedestrian deaths would have been avoided if all light trucks were replaced with cars.” As he notes in the study, this reduction would have represented 9.5% of all pedestrian deaths in that timeframe.

There were 741,000 traffic crash fatalities between 2000 and 2019, according to Tyndall’s study, with 100,000 pedestrians killed by vehicles. Although overall traffic violence fatalities have declined during that period, pedestrian fatalities have increased 30%, according to Tyndall’s findings. He argues that these heavy vehicles “may impose a negative externality on pedestrians by making crashes involving pedestrians more lethal,” noting that “vehicles on US roads became measurably larger between 2000 and 2019.” Whereas only 2.6% of motor vehicles “involved in fatal crashes” were heavier than 2,500 kilograms in 2000, according to the study, in 2019 that figure rose to 12.5%.  Tyndall specifically attributes this increase to “the popularity of a few large SUVs, particularly the Ford Expedition and the Chevrolet Suburban and Tahoe.”

StreetsBlog notes that heavier vehicles are associated with traffic crash fatalities not only because of their massive size, but also their “poor visibility.” It cites a report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that found “drivers behind the wheel of these heavier vehicles are two to three times more likely to kill a pedestrian in a collision.”

In the conclusion of his paper, Tyndall suggests that consumers purchasing heavy vehicles are unlikely to consider “safety externalities” like the risk they pose to pedestrians. As such, he argues that regulatory restrictions on the sale of heavy vehicles, taxes on the sale of certain vehicles, could yield “societal benefits.” He also concludes that heavy vehicles alone do not account for the rise in pedestrian deaths over the last 20 years, suggesting that distracted driving and “other changes to vehicles and road conditions” may also be contributing factors that warrant further study.

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