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SUVs Responsible for More Pedestrian Deaths

Pedestrians struck by light trucks and vans (LTVs), including sports utility vehicles (SUVs), suffer a higher fatality rate than those struck by a traditional passenger car, according to research conducted by Dr. Clay Gabler, a Mechanical Engineering professor at Rowan University, Glassboro, N.J., and 2000 (B.S.) and 2001 (M.S.) Rowan graduate Devon Lefler.

Gabler and Lefler's work -- "The Fatality and Injury Risk of Light Truck Impacts with Pedestrians in the United States" -- recently was published in Accident Analysis & Prevention.

While previous studies indicated collisions between LTVs/SUVs and cars showed greater threats to car passengers (car passengers suffered 81 percent of fatalities), the risk to pedestrians in cars, light trucks and vans in the United States had not been explored.

Gabler and Lefler analyzed United States traffic accident statistics involving SUVs, pickup trucks, full-sized vans and minivans from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), the National Automotive Sampling System (NASS) General Sampling System and NASS Pedestrian Crash Data Study (PCDS).

In analyzing pedestrian fatality trends, the team reviewed FARS figures from 1991 to 2000. While the number of fatalities dropped 18 percent over that timeframe, the decrease was attributed to the outcome of cars striking pedestrians. In car-pedestrian accidents, the fatality rate dropped 32 percent from 1991 to 2000. However, deaths increased 10 percent during the same time in accidents that involved LTVs. The team's research discovered that for every 1,000 accidents, 45 people died when struck by a car or minivan while 133 died when struck by a large van, the study vehicle with the worst history.

"A pedestrian struck by a van is nearly three times more likely to suffer fatal injury than a pedestrian struck by a car. Pedestrians struck by large SUVs are twice as likely to die as pedestrians struck by cars," Gabler and Lefler reported.

The researchers believe that the mass of a vehicle may not be the controlling factor in the outcomes, even though LTVs are much heavier than cars. They determined that other design factors might affect the outcome in an accident. Based on ananalysis of the PCDS database, they found that pedestrians struck by LTVs had a higher probability of serious head, chest and lower extremity injuries, including fatal injuries, than those struck by a passenger car. Their examination of injury patterns verified that the front shape of a vehicle, as well as impact speed, is a dominant factor in predicting injury or death.

(Gabler, who earned his Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from Princeton University, served as a research program manager at the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. He is an internationally recognized expert in vehicle crash safety and has published more than 25 technical papers on subjects including vehicle crashworthiness, vehicle-to- roadside safety hardware interactions and crash compatibility.)