Big and blunt: the cars that threaten life

New research from the US has established that the trend toward cars and SUVs that are fashionably high at the front has directly increased deaths and serious injuries.

Vehicles with a bonnet higher than 100cm at the leading edge and a blunt grill sloping at 65 degrees or less were found to be 45% more likely to cause pedestrian fatalities.

While there are relatively few of the massive "yank tank" utes and SUVs in Australia yet, they are selling strongly in the US. Meanwhile, the general trend to higher and blunter vehicles continues across all brands.

And while the research so far has concentrated on pedestrian casualties, researchers conclude that people riding bikes are also more vulnerable in a collision with vehicles of such elephantine dimensions.

Two studies were carried out by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IOIHS) and investigated almost 18,000 pedestrian crashes.

Using Vehicle Identification Numbers to identify the crash-involved vehicles, they calculated key front-end measurements corresponding to 2958 unique car, minivan, large van, SUV and pickup models from photographs.

The researchers also examined detailed crash reconstructions of 121 crashes in which the front end of a vehicle had struck pedestrians.

In general, vehicles taller than 90cm were more dangerous to pedestrians than shorter ones, mainly because they tended to cause more severe head injuries.

Among vehicles taller than 90cm, those with vertical front ends were more dangerous than those with sloped front ends. Torso and hip injuries from these vehicles were more frequent and severe.

Unlike all other vehicle types, tall and blunt vehicles primarily inflicted torso injuries with their front ends rather than with the tops of their hoods. They were more likely to injure pedestrians by throwing them forward, while tall and sloped vehicles usually rolled them onto the hood of the vehicle first.

Pedestrians who were shorter relative to the height of the striking vehicle also suffered more severe injuries.

“Manufacturers can make vehicles less dangerous to pedestrians by lowering the front end of the hood and angling the grille and hood to create a sloped profile,” says IIHS Senior Research Transportation Engineer Wen Hu, the lead author of the study. “There’s no functional benefit to these massive, blocky fronts.”

“Some of today’s vehicles are pretty intimidating when you’re passing in front of them in a crosswalk,” IIHS President David Harkey says. “These results tell us our instincts are correct: More aggressive-looking vehicles can indeed do more harm.”

“It’s clear that the increasing size of the vehicles in the US fleet is costing pedestrians their lives,” Harkey says. “We encourage automakers to consider these findings and take a hard look at the height and shape of their SUVs and pickups.”

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