Designing Vehicles for Pedestrian Safety

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Vehicle design plays a crucial role in ensuring the safety of not just drivers and passengers but also pedestrians, cyclists, and other road users. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is actively researching vehicle improvements to enhance safety in conjunction with infrastructure and enforcement changes. This article explores the key aspects of vehicle design that can contribute to a safer transportation system for everyone.

Key Highlights:

  • Impact of Vehicle Size and Shape: SUVs, pickups, and light vans pose a higher risk to pedestrians and cyclists compared to sedans. The height and shape of these vehicles’ front ends significantly contribute to this danger.
  • Visibility Issues: Larger vehicles have poorer visibility, especially at intersections, leading to higher pedestrian crash rates.
  • Advancements in Safety Technology: Pedestrian crash avoidance systems have proven effective in reducing pedestrian crash rates by 27%.
  • Speed Control Innovations: Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) technology is emerging to help drivers adhere to speed limits, thus enhancing safety for all road users.
  • Necessity of Infrastructure Improvements: Safe infrastructure remains essential to complement vehicle design improvements and advanced technologies.

Impact of Vehicle Size and Shape

The size and shape of a vehicle significantly affect its safety profile for pedestrians and cyclists. Research indicates that SUVs and similar large vehicles are more likely to cause serious injuries or fatalities in crashes compared to sedans. The height and blunt shape of these vehicles’ front ends are primary factors contributing to their increased danger.

Visibility Issues

Poor visibility is another significant factor that makes larger vehicles hazardous for pedestrians. Structures like the A-pillar or large side mirrors can obstruct the driver’s view, particularly when turning at intersections. IIHS is conducting research to understand if these visibility issues explain the higher incidence of turning crashes involving larger vehicles.

Advancements in Safety Technology

Not all vehicle design trends are negative. Since 2019, IIHS has been rating pedestrian crash avoidance systems, which significantly reduce pedestrian crash rates. These systems lower pedestrian injury severity by reducing impact speed. Moreover, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has mandated this technology on new vehicles starting in 2029. Additionally, improvements in vehicle headlight quality have been linked to lower nighttime crash rates involving pedestrians.

Speed Control Innovations

Controlling vehicle speed is crucial for preventing serious injuries to pedestrians and cyclists. Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA) technology is an emerging solution that uses cameras and GPS to ensure drivers adhere to speed limits. New York City and California are already trialing or considering legislation for ISA in municipal fleets and new vehicles.

Necessity of Infrastructure Improvements

While vehicle design improvements are vital, they are not sufficient alone. Safe infrastructure is essential to fill the gaps left by vehicle technology. This includes setting and enforcing safe speed limits, improving intersection and crosswalk designs, and increasing the separation between pedestrians and motor vehicles. Enhancing street lighting also plays a significant role in improving pedestrian visibility and the effectiveness of pedestrian crash prevention systems.

Bottom Line

A comprehensive approach to road safety requires ongoing commitment to improving both vehicle design and infrastructure. Ensuring the safety of all road users, including pedestrians and cyclists, involves making informed decisions about vehicle design and investing in safer roadway environments. This holistic strategy is essential for creating a safer transportation system for everyone.

The original article by Jessica Cicchino of IIHS can be found here.

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The Brake Report
The Brake Report

The BRAKE Report is an online media platform dedicated to the automotive and commercial vehicle brake segments. Our mission is to provide the global brake community with the latest news & headlines from around the industry.