Taller Vehicles Pose Higher Pedestrian Fatality Risk, Study Finds

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A study of nearly 18,000 crashes showed vehicles with hoods more than 40 inches off the ground are significantly more likely to cause pedestrian fatalities. 

New research from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety revealed vehicles with taller front ends significantly increase pedestrian fatalities, prompting a call for design changes.

“These results tell us our instincts are correct: More aggressive-looking vehicles can indeed do more harm,” said IIHS President David Harkey

The average U.S. passenger vehicle has become larger over the past 30 years, with many now featuring hoods at eye level for many adults.

The study involved an analysis of 17,897 crashes, using vehicle identification numbers to correlate front-end measurements with specific car models. Vehicles with hoods more than 40 inches off the ground and a grille sloped at an angle of 65 degrees or less were identified as significantly more likely to cause pedestrian fatalities. 

Wen Hu, IIHS senior research transportation engineer and lead author of the study, suggested manufacturers can make vehicles safer for pedestrians by lowering the front end and angling the grille and hood for a sloped profile.

Additionally, the research revealed while sloping front ends did not reduce the risk posed by vehicles with the tallest hoods, they did make a significant difference for vehicles with hood heights of 30-40 inches. For medium-height vehicles with blunt fronts, the risk of causing pedestrian fatalities was 26% higher compared to those with sloped fronts.

Further analysis from the International Center for Automotive Medicine Pedestrian Consortium, examining detailed records from 121 crashes, supported these findings. It was found that taller vehicles, especially those with vertical front ends, tended to cause more severe head, torso and hip injuries. This is particularly concerning as pedestrian crash deaths have risen 80% since 2009, with nearly 7,400 fatalities in 2021 alone.

The IIHS study brings to light the critical impact of vehicle design on pedestrian safety. As Harkey urged, there is a pressing need for automakers to reconsider the height and shape of SUVs and pickups to mitigate the increasing pedestrian fatalities.

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