Pedestrians are at increasing threat from larger personal vehicles. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Pedestrians are at increasing threat from larger personal vehicles. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance Times)

Painful Truth: Big trucks taking their toll on pedestrians

The trend of larger vehicles is dangerous for those on foot

Have you ever heard the saying “I felt like I’d been hit by a bus”?

Sure. It’s a nice simile. Buses have heft. That’s why you never hear anyone say “I felt like I’d been hit by a two-door Fiat.”

Obviously, it’s better not to be hit by any motorized vehicle – even a Vespa can ruin your day and send you home on crutches. But if you had to pick, you’d choose the compact hatchback over the bus, right?

The thing is, we’re actually choosing some bad options for cars when it comes to pedestrian safety in North America. Too many drivers are trying to get as close to “bus” as they can when it comes to their personal vehicle choices – and it’s literally killing people.

A study last year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that deaths from crashes were going in the opposite directions in the United States. The number of people killed in vehicular crashes had dropped from 50,000 a year in 1980 to 35,560 in 2018.

That’s great news! All those seatbelt laws and Mothers Against Drunk Driving campaigns, all those crumple zones and crash-test dummy impact studies are actually paying off! Despite there being more cars on the roads, fewer people are dying in them!

Unfortunately, there’s a flip side to that. If people inside cars are safer than ever, people outside cars are dying at increasing rates.

The number of pedestrians killed by cars and trucks rose by a shocking 53 per cent between 2009 and 2018. Pedestrians now make up one fifth of fatalities in the U.S. when it comes to crashes.

The problem, or at least a big part of it, seems to be larger vehicles.

There’s been a steady move towards more SUVs and pickup trucks since the 1990s across North America.

The trends aren’t going entirely in the wrong direction. Another IIHS study, in 2019, found that SUVs were becoming less dangerous, largely because more and more of them are crossovers, which have lower bumpers and smaller front grills in general.

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But when it comes to pickup trucks, well, things are bad. If you remember what a mid-sized pickup truck looked like around 1980 to 1990, then you know that the modern version of the same makes and models are ridiculously large.

And those big front bumpers and high front grills hit pedestrians right at the centre of mass, damaging hips and torsos.

So here’s the question – should we deploy legislation to cut down on the number of pedestrians being killed and injured by ever-larger personal vehicles?

We regulate a tremendous number of other things about cars and trucks, from safety standards to how they’re driven. We require the drivers of large commercial vehicles to get special training and pass more stringent requirements, to get Class 1 and 2 licences.

So, should we require similar training for people who want to drive the very largest pickup trucks and SUVs? Should we up the cost of their insurance, on the grounds that they’re a bigger threat to pedestrians? Should we limit their sale in some way?

If not, why not? Is there a good argument for letting more pedestrians die?

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