October 7, 2005

SUVs Pose Greater Danger to Pedestrians

LONDON -- Sports utility vehicles (SUVs) may feel safer for their drivers but they are more deadly than other cars for pedestrians, Irish scientists said on Friday.

Research has shown that the chance of killing or seriously injuring a pedestrian is two to four times higher for someone driving an SUV, or 4X4 vehicle, than a car.

"There is clearly a higher risk for pedestrians when they are struck by a light truck or SUV compared to a passenger car," Dr. Ciaran Simms, an expert in mechanical engineering at Trinity College in Dublin, told Reuters.

Elderly pedestrians and children are most at risk.

In an editorial in The British Medical Journal medical journal, Simms and Desmond O'Neill, a professor of medical gerontology at Trinity College, called for warnings on SUVs to inform buyers of the increased risk the vehicles pose to pedestrians.

They also recommended a higher road tax and called for all SUVs involved in accidents to be documented.

The researchers, who studied accidents involving SUVs to determine why they are so deadly for pedestrians, said size didn't matter.

The main problem was the height and shape of the front of vehicle. The hood, or bonnet, is higher than on cars and has a more severe impact when it strikes the center of the body and upper legs and pelvis.

Raising the edge of the front hood or bonnet of a vehicle from 600-850 mm (24-33 inches) increases the impact by a factor of two, which results in a doubling of injuries to vulnerable parts of the body such as the head and abdomen.

The vehicles are increasingly popular. Sales of SUVs in Europe have risen by 15 percent in the last year while demand for cars has slumped by 4 percent, according to the scientists.

"In the United States, 40 percent of new vehicles are classified as light trucks or vans (many of which are SUVs)," they said in the editorial.

Elderly pedestrians are more vulnerable to the dangers of SUVs because they are weaker, less agile and may have poorer reactions that may make them less likely to avoid being struck and more at risk of suffering serious injuries and dying.

The increased height may also make it more difficult for drivers to see young children in front of or around the vehicle, according to the researchers.