Following the deaths of nearly 6,000 pedestrians in U.S. traffic accidents last year, 92 of them in Colorado, U.S. automakers and officials should consider following Europe’s walker-friendly auto regulations.

Europe Ahead of America in Automotive Design Safety Initiatives

Getting injured in a vehicle-pedestrian accident while you’re crossing the street is bad enough, but you must also consider how the driver’s vehicle choice and the automotive design features dictate the severity and type of injuries sustained.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the automotive testing lab best-known for its “Top Safety Picks”, has been examining ways to reverse the spiking trend of pedestrian fatalities in Colorado and across the United States.

In 2017, 93 pedestrians died in traffic crashes across Colorado, an 80.4 percent increase over 2009, according to statistics compiled by the Colorado Department of Transportation. Nearly 6,000 walkers died nationally in 2017.

David Harkey, president of The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, in a recent IIHS article pointed to both road design and vehicle design as contributing factors to vehicle-human collisions.

The Shape of Things That Kill

Vehicle design — the shape, size, and weight of the car or truck you’re driving — plays a role in how severe auto accidents can be. Although SUVs and larger trucks offer more safety to drivers and occupants, they are also associated with higher risk of death and severe injuries for the pedestrians they strike, IIHS researchers found. Big vehicles tend to have higher and more vertical front ends. As such, they’re more likely to strike pedestrians in the head or chest and cause more severe injuries. Design changes that lessen the wall-like impact could lead to less-severe crashes.

More Power, More Speeding, Greater Injuries Sustained in an Accident

Although IIHS researchers do not have reliable information about vehicle speeds in the pedestrian fatality data, the statistics indicate that cars and trucks in fatal accidents with people are increasingly powerful, just as the overall fleet of cars and trucks on U.S. streets. Earlier IIHS research showed drivers of autos with greater horsepower or weight ratios tended to drive faster and were likely to violate speed limits.

Although higher speeds are inherently more dangerous, U.S. drivers’ speeding habits have continually increased, the IIHS report states. However, reducing speed limits and increasing enforcement with automated speed cameras is proving effective in reducing speed limit violations and reducing accidents with injuries.

Coping With Pedestrians’ Enemy: Bad Lighting

Poor lighting conditions always raise the risks for pedestrians in the street, and most of the fatalities involving people on foot occur after dark. In 2016, 4,453 pedestrians were struck and killed by vehicles at night, while only 1290 died from daytime crashes. The first light of dawn and the last light of dusk saw 205 fatal pedestrian crashes.

The solutions may lie not only with better road lighting but also with car and truck equipment. IIHS launched an additional safety classification for vehicles with improved headlight arrays. Among 2016 models, two received a Good rating for headlights. But among 2018 models, 26 have received Good ratings for their headlight packages.

The latest, high-tech auto engineering innovation may prove to be pedestrians’ biggest ally in the car vs. human war. Automakers’ new front-crash-prevention systems, particularly ones attuned to low-light conditions, have decreased pedestrian accidents. Recent analysis by IIHS’ sister organization, the Highway Loss Data Institute, examined Subaru cars and trucks equipped with pedestrian-detection systems. It found that the equipped vehicles had a 35 percent reduction in claim rates for pedestrian injuries when compared to the same vehicles without the safety systems.

Trailing Europe’s Advances in Pedestrian Safety

Europe’s governments and automakers are placing great emphasis on pedestrian safety while their American counterparts are showing little or no care, according to Angie Schmitt, writer for, a pedestrian, bicyclist, and mass-transit user advocacy group.

In 2010, the European Union, acting on recommendations from the United Nations, enacted new safety standards to reduce pedestrian injuries and fatalities, Schmitt wrote. Government safety labs design crash tests to measure crash impacts on the heads of adults and children and also adults’ legs. In response, automakers began redesigning hoods to minimize impact-caused head trauma. Some automakers even began featuring external airbags to improve pedestrian survival rates.

In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration studied proposed rules for pedestrian safety improvements in the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s but never acted, Schmitt wrote. She quoted IIHS chief researcher David Zuby, who said U.S. regulators have been reluctant to use international standards because it’s unclear how they would affect SUVs and pickup trucks, which make up 63 percent of new vehicle sales in the United States.

“At every point our government has had to make a decision they’ve either pushed it off into the future or decided not to act,” Zuby said. “It would help if we had those regulations on the books here.”

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