Would You Buy That Truck or SUV If You Knew It Endangered Pedestrians?

A bill in New York hopes to add pedestrian safety ratings to vehicles. They should be standard nationwide.

A giant Ford pickup truck sitting next to a line of cars
Americans love their oversized trucks and SUVs, to the detriment of pedestrians.
Erik Mclean/Unsplash

It’s no secret that Americans drove less during the first year of the pandemic. But you may have heard that despite fewer people on the road, risky driving behavior increased. Now, the picture has become even bleaker: pedestrian deaths rose almost 5% in 2020 over the year before “in the largest annual increase of the pedestrian fatality rate since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) started tabulating such crashes,” as Bloomberg reported. After years of decline, pedestrian deaths have been on the uptick for over a decade.

There are a number of factors involved in this increase, but one that hasn’t received its share of the blame is the sheer increase in the size of our daily drivers, particularly among SUVs and trucks. Now, one lawmaker is hoping to draw attention to the issue with a bill in the New York State senate that would create a pedestrian safety rating system for motor vehicles. 

The bill, from State Senator Andrew Gounardes, would require the New York Department of Motor Vehicles to rate vehicles between one and five stars, taking into account “the frequency of collisions and number and severity of injuries involving a bicyclist or pedestrian.” Car dealers would be required to display these ratings on vehicles, like health warnings on booze and cigarettes. 

Even if you’re a proud SUV or truck owner, this is a great idea. There’s absolutely no reason this should not be a standard safety rating nationwide. After all, as Bloomberg noted, pedestrian safety ratings are standard in Europe and Japan. Not only that, but our own Government Accountability Office, a federal agency, released a report last year saying the NHTSA has been studying pedestrian safety long enough that it needs to make a decision about whether or not to include that testing as part of its assessments.

Adding it should be a no-brainer. In 2019, SUVs made up an astonishing 47.4% of passenger car sales in the U.S., with sedans coming in at just 22.1%, according to IHS Markit. In 2020, sport utility vehicles almost certainly hit the 50% mark. Simultaneously, the number of pedestrian deaths involving SUVs are increasing at a faster rate than sedans, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association

While there’s been lots of talk about new safety and driver assistance systems, these high-tech features can’t make up for the fact that hulking, heavy motor vehicles driven by humans have the potential to seriously injure those walking or biking. Bigger vehicles mean more potential for blind spots and taller vehicles mean there’s a larger likelihood of pedestrians being run over, rather than being thrown onto the hood of a car, which is likely safer in a collision.

We’ve been over this before: Americans have a truck and SUV obsession that’s killing the planet, even though most people don’t need them. Obviously greenhouse gas emissions aren’t enough to turn the tide on their popularity, but if your Cadillac Escalade or GMC Sierra had a warning label telling you it’s more likely to kill pedestrians than a sedan, maybe people would start to think twice. 

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