Every year, more Canadians buy needlessly larger vehicles, while the pedestrian death toll grows in sync, too
Author of the article:
Mar 28, 2022
In this file photo, a woman wearing headphones crosses the street at a Toronto intersection. PHOTO BY CRAIG ROBERTSON /Toronto Sun
“SUVs, pickups, vans, and minivans are substantially more likely than cars to hit pedestrians when making turns, suggesting that these larger vehicles may not afford drivers as clear a view of people crossing the road, a new study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows.”
That’s it. That’s the opening shot, and also the summary, of a study from a highly reputable organization that devotes itself to traffic safety. And nobody will care. There is absolutely nothing in that opening quote that is a surprise. It is not news. When you can’t see what is happening outside of your vehicle, you are more likely to hit things.
We are selfish. We are spoiled. We are emotional when it comes to vehicles, something that recent high fuel costs are no doubt reminding people who bought too much vehicle last time. Manufacturers spend a fortune on ad campaigns to remind you that you need and deserve the biggest you can afford, other road users be damned.
Maybe you’ve bought into the promises that your vehicle will protect those on the inside. After all, you’ve never been more likely to walk away from what once would have been a fatal crash than you are now. Safety systems – whether passive ones like seatbelts, airbags, and crumple zones; or active ones like automated emergency braking and lane-keeping assist – are remarkable, and improving with every model year.
Your car has never been more able to protect you and your passengers, and that’s an outstanding achievement. Even more importantly, these systems are becoming standard on more and more vehicles, not just those nesting at the top of the food chain.
But drivers have a responsibility to all road users, not just the ones they’re transporting. Manufacturers have a responsibility, too, so pedestrian avoidance systems are coming into increased focus. They, too, are getting better, and becoming more widely available, and are now going to be factored into safety ratings.
What consumers have to remember, though, is that while you can pretty much assume your airbags will activate and save you because they’ve been doing that for decades, those pedestrian safety systems? Not quite so reliable. When there isn’t adequate lighting, the IIHS found they made no difference at all. In the very circumstances that you as a driver are least likely to see that pedestrian, your car is not so great at detecting them, either.
A Toyota SUV making a right turn past a pedestrian in an intersection PHOTO BY IIHS
It’s always been difficult to get statistics that break down what killed who, or rather, who killed who. Drivers cause crashes, and the possibility of an actual “accident” is statistically tiny, regardless of news accounts of cars “going out of control.” What I mean is, driver error is far and away the leading cause of crashes. You can complain about weather or road design or what manufacturers are allowed to get away with, but ultimately, if you choose to drive, you are in control of the outcome.
Crash data rarely drills down far enough, and yet, this most recent IIHS study reveals it is this very information that we desperately need. Over 80 per cent of vehicles sold in Canada last year were pickup trucks and SUVs. “Hood height of passenger trucks has increased by an average of at least 11 per cent since 2000 and new pickups grew 24 per cent heavier on average from 2000 to 2018,” says Consumer Reports.
They’re even higher now, with some of those massive pickup trucks having “front blind spots that were 3.3 metres (11 feet) longer than some sedans, and 2.1 metres (7 feet) longer than in some SUVs.” Imagine not being able to see over 3 metres beyond what you could see in a “normal” car; now start blindly moving around in pedestrian-heavy zones.
“At intersections, the odds that a crash that killed a crossing pedestrian involved a left turn by the vehicle versus no turn were about twice as high for SUVs, nearly three times as high for vans and minivans, and nearly four times as high for pickups as they were for cars. The odds that a crash that killed a crossing pedestrian involved a right turn by the vehicle were also 89 per cent higher for pickups and 63 per cent higher for SUVs than for cars,” from the IIHS study, with the emphasis mine. People piloting these increasingly larger vehicles in urban streets and parking lots are 89 per cent more likely to kill a pedestrian if they’re hanging a right than they would be making the same turn in a car.
Pedestrians wait for a pick-up truck that failed to stop to let them cross the street at the crosswalk on Peel St. south of St. Catherine St. in Montreal, Monday October 31, 2011. PHOTO BY JOHN MAHONEY /Montreal Gazette
We don’t need more and more studies. We need urban design that puts people ahead of vehicles. We need manufacturers to acknowledge the reason they need better pedestrian avoidance systems is because their bigger, heavier vehicles are going to mean drivers kill and injure more vulnerable road users — ones they can’t even see because the vehicles are so large.
How many times can we keep telling kids they have to ride their bikes in a way to make sure they make it easier for drivers to drive around them? Why should pedestrians have to make sure a driver sees them? When do we stop blaming people using urban roadways for getting in the way of those who are essentially wielding urban assault vehicles?
How can you call this a war on drivers when the ones paying the price are the ones who aren’t even driving?
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