As Trucks and SUVs Get Bigger, More Pedestrians Are Killed
“My second eldest son called me early in the morning. He said, “Dad, Wes got hit by a car,” and my first reaction was where is he? How is he? and he said ‘no dad, he’s dead’.
Wesley Stamps’ son, Wesley Jr., was killed early in the morning on Woodward Avenue in 2020 when a driver driving a Chevy Traverse hit him before driving off. Stamps, told the story of her son on a sunny afternoon, staring down the busy road outside his barber shop in Southfield.
“I think about his laugh, I think about his conversations with me that we would have and I was always in father mode,” Stamps said.
When police found the driver, he was cleaning blood from his SUV, telling officers he thought he hit a deer. He claimed he had never even seen Wesley. He went to jail for 90 days and Wesley’s story became one of tens of thousands like her across the country each year.
“There are times when it comes out of nowhere and that’s that day,” Stamps said, letting out a long exhale. “It will be one of those days.”
According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association in 2020, pedestrian fatalities, like Wesley’s, reached their highest level since 1989, reaching more than 6,500 people killed.
“There is an increase in numbers. When we look at fatalities, a larger share of them are SUVs and pickup trucks,” said Angie Schmitt.
Schmitt is the founder of 3mph Planning and Consulting, a Cleveland-based company that focuses on road and pedestrian issues. She is also the author of the book “Right of Way” about the lack of pedestrian safety on American roads and has worked to make the streets safer for pedestrians for nearly a decade.
“I think there are a few different factors that play into it, but the big one, the one we can point out most clearly, is that the cars have gotten bigger,” she said.
Research going back more than two decades supports Schmitt. For example, the Serman M4 tank, one of the tanks the Allies used to win World War II, is about 19 feet long and 8 feet wide.
The Ford F-150, Crew Cab XLT four-door is the most popular truck and trim on the road. It’s about 20 feet long and almost seven feet wide with the mirrors.
Although this model is the most common, it’s comparable in size to a Sherman, and it’s not even the biggest option for potential drivers, which means trucks on the road can occupy more space in the next lane than driving next to a tank.
Since 2000, Consumer Reports indicates that the overall size of pickup trucks has increased by 11%. The hood height of some of the most popular trucks on the roads today, like Ford’s F-250, Chevy Silverado and Ram 1500, is 55 inches. At this height, they are taller than the average 8-year-old and big enough to hit an average person in the head, neck, and torso.
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All that extra size also means it’s harder to see things in front or behind trucks when you’re behind the wheel. Consumer Reports has also found that some trucks have front blind spots that can be nearly 15 feet in front of a truck and 50 feet long behind.
“For some reason there’s been this huge shift in the auto industry which I think in the 90s was more pro-social and now I think it’s very anti-social,” Schmitt said,
It’s also a matter of weight. Today, trucks average about 5,200 pounds — that’s a jump of more than half a ton since 2000. And things are getting heavier as electric vehicles seem to be becoming our new normal.
On average, electric vehicles are 10% heavier than gasoline cars. For example, the new electric Hummer weighs 9,100 pounds or more than 4.5 tons. All that weight can have deadly consequences. Researchers have found that for every 1,000 pounds a car puts on, a pedestrian is almost 50% more likely to die if hit, and the heavier a truck weighs, the longer it will take to stop.
The researchers also discovered that almost none of this is necessary.
“It’s mostly a styling thing in a lot of cases,” Schmitt said. “A lot of van drivers, there are van drivers who obviously use them for transportation, for small businesses, but the majority don’t use them to transport anything of importance in a year.”
Automakers sell a lifestyle. Making money when the evidence shows it and the experts say lives are being lost when they might not have to be.
Local 4 went to Big 3; Ford, General Motors and Stellantis and asked for interviews with company CEOs to explain why they put profits before people. None of them agreed to talk.
In a statement, a Ford spokesperson said, “Safety is a top priority. Pedestrian safety is a complex issue requiring a holistic approach addressing all areas that contribute to this challenge, including infrastructure, driver distraction, pedestrian distraction and behavior, enforcement of speed limits on local roads and others. Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection is standard on 96% of our range of cars, trucks and light SUVs. »
A General Motors spokesperson said: “At GM, customer safety is a priority regardless of the type of propulsion or the mass of the vehicle. All GM products must comply with applicable federal safety standards in addition to GM’s strict safety requirements. Mass is a key design criterion for any vehicle developed by GM, implementing the correct tires, chassis, braking systems and other safety systems to ensure the vehicle operates safely. Additionally, GM deploys a long list of advanced safety technology features proven to reduce rear-end collisions, pedestrian collisions, lane departures, lane changes and reverse collisions. based on research carried out in partnership with the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.
Finally, in a statement from its own Ram owner Stellantis, said: “We remind our customers that operating a motor vehicle requires proper care and attention – a message codified in the Highway Code. Every Stellantis-branded vehicle sold in the United States meets or exceeds all applicable safety standards.
But experts like Schmitt say those reminders may not be enough.
“If drivers of large SUVs and pickup trucks were told ‘your vehicle poses specific risks and you need to drive it carefully’, and they were, you wouldn’t see this problem. Instead, people are driving very, very heavy vehicles almost like they’re racing cars,” she said.
There have been pushes to force automakers to take responsibility for the size of their trucks. In Europe and Japan, they are required to think of pedestrians when designing, which means car manufacturers already know how to make these cars. They just don’t make them that way in the United States.
The bipartisan Infrastructure Act of 2022 decided to change 5-star safety ratings to include pedestrian safety for larger vehicles, meaning that for the first time automakers will have to assess the safety of their trucks and SUV for pedestrians. Details on what this means for the industry and security features are still being worked out. It all comes down to the bottom line.
“Specifically, a lot of American automakers were against the idea of doing a 5-star safety rating for pedestrian safety and I think that’s because they’re obviously so focused on SUVs and pickup trucks that they thought it would be bad for business,” Schmitt says.
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