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IIHS: SUVs to blame for jump in pedestrian deaths

by Justin King

Pedestrian deaths have climbed 46 percent since reaching their lowest point in 2009.

SUVs and high-horsepower vehicles are responsible for a disproportionate number of pedestrian fatalities, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Pedestrian deaths are said to be up 46 percent since hitting their lowest point in 2009. An IIHS study looked at specific details to find trends in the type of scenarios that often lead to such accidents.

"The March crash of an Uber vehicle that killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona, was unusual for involving a self-driving vehicle," the organization says. "But in other ways, it was typical of fatal pedestrian crashes: an SUV traveling on an urban arterial road struck a person crossing midblock in the dark."

The jump in deaths is said to be associated with urban or suburban areas, at nonintersections on busy arterial roads and in the dark. The number of deaths per pedestrian collision also increased, climbing by 29 percent since 2010.

"Although pedestrian crashes most frequently involved cars, fatal single-vehicle crashes involving SUVs increased 81 percent, more than any other type of vehicle," the study found. "The power of passenger vehicles involved in fatal single-vehicle pedestrian crashes, as measured by the ratio of horsepower to weight, also increased, with larger increases at the top of the scale."

It seems obvious that SUVs are increasingly involved in crashes, as SUVs account for a much larger ratio of the vehicles on the road today than in 2009. Power-to-weight ratios have also generally increased as automakers continue to refine powertrain technology.

Despite singling out performance cars and high-riding SUVs, the IIHS concludes that the best strategy for reducing pedestrian deaths involves changes to urban arterial roads such as lane rearrangements, median crossing islands, pedestrian hybrid beacons and automated speed enforcement. Better road lighting and vehicle headlights could also improve pedestrian visibility at night.