Turning Pickup Trucks are 4 Times As Likely to Kill Pedestrians

Pickups and SUVs (officially classed as light truck vehicles or LTVs) have always been problematic because of their poor fuel efficiency and the upfront carbon emissions emitted when making them. But it also has been known for years that LTVs are deadly, as shown, for example, in an earlier study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) which found that LTVs were disproportionately likely to kill. We have noted that it is a design problem. The high flat front end restricts visibility, making crashes more likely and also more deadly, like hitting someone with a moving wall. That is why we say they should make trucks as safe as cars or ban them from cities.

Now the IIHS has released the results of a new study looking at the association between pedestrian crash types and passenger vehicle types. Researchers Wen Hu and Jessica b. Cicchino write that it is the first study of its kind, using data from state and federal crash data. The investigation found that the LTVs were particularly dangerous when turning. When turning left, drivers of pickup trucks were four times as likely to kill as a regular car, three times as likely with vans, and twice as likely with SUVs. With right turns, pickups were 89% more likely to kill.1 The researchers suggest that it is a design flaw and are quoted in the press release:

“It’s possible that the size, shape or location of the A-pillars that support the roof on either side of the windshield could make it harder for drivers of these larger vehicles to see crossing pedestrians when they are turning.”

Since cars and trucks are designed to protect the occupants, not the people around them, the A-pillars that connect the roof of the vehicle to the body on either side of the windshield have to be strong enough to support the vehicle in the case of a rollover. Pickups are heavy and the roof has to support 3 tons of truck on four points, so the pillars have to get beefy. So when a driver is turning, it can block a significant part of the view. Being so high that the driver can look right over the top of the pedestrian and having such a long hood doesn’t help. The study concluded that “LTVs were more likely to be involved in certain pedestrian crash types, implying a potentially problematic visibility of pedestrians near the front corners of these vehicles.”1

“More research is needed to examine A-pillar blind zones by vehicle type. If it is found that LTVs have larger blind zones, automakers should consider ways to design the A-pillars of these vehicles to minimize blind zones while maintaining pillar strength. Doing this could improve pedestrian safety around these increasingly popular larger vehicles.”

Low hood is safer for people
Low hood is safer for people.Euro NCAP

We have noted many times that there are fundamental flaws in American LTV design. They were always considered work vehicles and were exempt from many of the standards that apply to cars, whereas in Europe, every vehicle, including work vehicles like Ford Transits and Mercedes Sprinters, are designed to reduce the danger of death for pedestrians. The electrification of SUVs and pickup trucks provides a tremendous opportunity to fix this since there is no engine up front, but of course, they would rather have a big manly “frunk.”

But as we have said before, there are often other factors at work here. As lead researcher Wen Hu notes:

“Improving vehicle design, along with addressing road infrastructure and vehicle speeds, can play an important part in reducing pedestrian crashes and fatalities. Our findings suggest that looking at the problem through the lens of vehicle type could also be productive.”

Intersection of Hurontario and Elm
North is up/ Hurontario and Elm.Google Maps

As we observed after the death of a five-year-old, run over by a woman turning right while driving a Jeep Gladiator, she had accomplices. In her book “City Rules: How Regulations Affect Urban Form,” Emily Talen explained how curve radii at corners affect the way people use cities. Out in the suburbs, they are designed so that you barely need to slow down to go around the corner. I am imagining what it might be like to zip around it, the driver’s head well above that of the child, A-Pillar and hood blocking the view. This is not an accident; this is not a crash. It’s murder by negligent design.

In a paper (and Treehugger interview) on auto safety, John F. Saylor called for transportation justice, and called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the agency responsible for regulating vehicle and road design, to fix this. “Congress and the executive should act to bring NHTSA’s rulemaking in line with transportation justice principles and pump the brakes on the decades-long safety crisis unfolding on our streets,” he wrote.

It might be faster if the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety gave a little nudge to the insurance companies that fund it, and urge them to adjust their rates to recognize the new data. Perhaps owners of vehicles that are four times as likely to kill should pay a bit more. Someone might use the IIHS data to demonstrate negligent design, and that could get expensive.

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