Concerns about large SUVs and trucks in regard to crash safety, particularly for cyclists and pedestrians, have been mounting. And those concerns are increasingly backed up by data. The latest comes from an IIHS study of fatal crashes involving cyclists. Comparing crashes with cars against those with SUVs, the organization discovered some unique risks posed by SUVs.
The organization looked at a set of 71 deadly single-car collisions in Michigan, specifically 23 that involved cars and 23 that involved SUVs. There weren’t enough crashes with pickup trucks for them to be included in the study. And using two ratings scales for injuries, it found that SUVs posed additional dangers. Overall, there were 55% more traumatic injuries caused by SUVs than cars, and in particular, there were 63% more severe injuries to the head in SUV-related crashes. Severe injuries across other body parts were fairly even.
The IIHS believes some of this is due to the way SUVs strike cyclists. Each vehicle type had types of collisions that weren’t shared by the other. Cars would send cyclists up on top of the vehicle. SUVs would send the cyclist to the ground and potentially run over. The organization notes that the severe injuries associated with SUV crashes could be caused by ground strikes and being run over, which differs from the injuries pedestrians face with SUVs, which tend to strike them in the torso.
This isn’t a large sample size, so additional research would be good, particularly in regard to pickup trucks, which are also extremely popular right now — though it would seem reasonable to assume trucks have the same issues being tall with ground clearance. But this research does join mounting evidence that tall vehicles are particularly dangerous to both cyclists and pedestrians. A previous IIHS study of pedestrian crashes found that SUVs were much more likely to cause severe or fatal injuries. Yet another of the organization’s studies found that such vehicles were more likely to have a crash with pedestrians, likely because of visibility issues.
With deaths of pedestrians and cyclists rising, all of this adds up to a serious issue. Last year, pedestrian deaths reached the highest in 40 years. As for cyclists, 932 were killed in 2020, a roughly 50% increase over 2010, when 621 were killed.
There is evidence that technologies such as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection can help, but it does seem like it will take more than that to help bring the number of these deaths back down.