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June 15, 2004

Light trucks pose greater injury risk to pedestrians

Although pedestrian injuries have decreased in recent years, they still remain a significant health problem, accounting for 13 percent of traffic fatalities in the U.S. The growing popularity of light trucks, a category that includes sport utility vehicles (SUVs), has presented a new challenge for pedestrians and raises an important question: Do light trucks increase the risk of severe injury and death for pedestrians?

New research indicates that vehicle type does influence risk of pedestrian injury. “Pedestrian Crashes: Higher Injury Severity and Mortality Rate for Light Truck Vehicles Compared with Passenger Vehicles” was published in the June issue of Injury Prevention.

The investigators analyzed 542 pedestrian injuries from 1994 to 1998 in six cities: Buffalo, Chicago, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, San Antonio and Seattle. Pedestrians struck by light trucks had a three times higher risk of severe injuries and a 3.4 times higher risk of death, compared with pedestrians struck by passenger vehicles. The research was conducted by investigators based at the Harborview Injury Prevention & Research Center (HIPRC) and the Center for Applied Biomechanics at the University of Virginia.

The researchers used information from the Pedestrian Crash Data Study (PCDS), conducted by the National Highway Safety Administration from 1994 to 1998. PCDS research teams analyzed crashes by going to the scene after notification of a crash. If the circumstances of the crash met certain criteria (e.g., a forward-moving vehicle striking an upright pedestrian), the team proceeded to gather data, including witness accounts and evidence of vehicle damage as a result of the crash. The researchers gathered information on pedestrian age and gender, type of vehicle, initial point of impact, impact of speed, extent and pattern of injuries, vehicle weight and patient outcome.

The evidence of a significantly greater risk of severe injury and death to pedestrians caused by light truck crashes supports the importance of technical tests to evaluate vehicle safety not only for passengers but also for pedestrians, the researchers write, and such technical tests should take into account the findings of real-world crashes.

With the rapid increase in the number of light trucks on the road, the threat to pedestrian safety is on the rise, the researchers write. Their study suggests the need to consider vehicle front-end design, especially for light trucks, in motor vehicle safety standards.

The study was conducted by Dr. Bahman Roudsari, research scientist; Dr. Charles Mock, University of Washington (UW) associate professor of surgery; Rob Kaufman, CIREN crash reconstructionist; and Dr. David Grossman, UW professor of pediatrics, all of the HIPRC; and by Jeff Crandall, Ph.D., associate professor of biomechanical engineering; and Basem Henary, M.P.H., research scientist, both of the Center for Applied Biomechanics at the University of Virginia.