A newly proposed New York bill would mandate that SUVs and trucks be given a pedestrian and cyclist safety rating. Should the bill be signed into law, it would be the first of its kind in the U.S., and unique from the existing safety ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which largely focus on occupant safety.
Using a one-to-five star rating system similar to the NHTSA’s, New York’s pedestrian safety ratings would be partly based on the rate and the severity of accidents and injuries in collisions with pedestrians and cyclists for a given truck and SUV model compared to the number of vehicle registrations in the state.
The proposed rating system would also take into account the safety features each model has with respect to pedestrians such as pre-collision braking and pedestrian detection. After the database is created by the New York Department of Motor Vehicles, it would be publicly accessible online and New York dealerships would have to display the ratings on the cars they’re selling.
Why implement a ratings system for pedestrians? Well, according to the proposed bill, “2019 saw the highest number of cyclist deaths in New York City in a single year since at least 1999.” The bill also notes that, of the 29 cyclist deaths that happened in 2019, 28 of them were due to collisions with large trucks, buses, SUVs, or vans.
That’s just cyclists. As of December 23, 2019, 117 pedestrians were killed in auto accidents in New York. As Americans continue their fascination with SUVs, they might feel safer on the road, but it also might be coming at the expense of pedestrian and cyclist safety. While correlation doesn’t equal causation, the trend here apparently is too strong for New York lawmakers to ignore. The problem also isn’t isolated to New York: A 2020 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study from Michigan found a similar trend, stating that SUVs are more lethal to pedestrians than cars.
For an example of the complexity of the issue at hand, higher hoods (a design trend in recent years that is a direct response to pedestrian safety regulations in certain countries) are actually better for pedestrian impacts, because there is ample space above the hard stuff (engine, frame) for the hood to collapse. Trucks and SUVs certainly have high hoods, but on a practical level that might make it harder to see pedestrians immediately in front of the vehicle; ditto thick windshield pillars, which may obstruct a driver’s view of pedestrians crossing in front of the vehicle from the right or the left. And, well, SUVs and trucks are heavy, so when they make contact with a pedestrian or cyclist, the physics are even more lopsided than with a car.
With SUV and truck sales soaring, it’s certainly noble to think of ways of protecting innocent (and, admittedly, at-times distracted) bystanders who are simply walking along our city’s streets and sharing space with large vehicles piloted by (also at-times distracted) drivers. While the bill itself isn’t a cure all for the overarching problem of pedestrian safety in general, it’s a solid start to shedding more light on what could be a very important trend, especially as trucks and SUVs make up a greater share of the vehicles on America’s roadways with each passing day.