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Sizing up deadly vehicles

8 Aug 2023 | Posted by | 0 Comments | , ,

To check the ever-increasing danger on our nation’s roadways, Transportation for America joined a coalition of advocates to call for stronger federal assessments of large vehicles. Read our comment letter.

More than 6,500 people walking were struck and killed in 2020, and the Governors Highway Safety Association projects that even more were killed in 2021, a sign that our streets continue to be dangerous for people traveling outside of a vehicle. As we wrote in Dangerous by Design, deadly street design, which prioritizes vehicle speed over pedestrian safety, is a key factor to these deaths, and people of color, particularly Black and Native Americans, face the worst consequences of dangerous design.

In a contributing essay, America Walks explained how vehicle size also plays a role in the likelihood that a pedestrian will die when struck by a vehicle. Ever-larger vehicles, and increasingly aggressive drivers, have an impact on the safety on our nation’s roadways. However, federal safety ratings have long ignored how vehicle designs impact the safety of people outside of the vehicle. That will soon change.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed an update to the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) that would aim to acknowledge the danger the vehicle could pose to pedestrians and other road users outside of the car. The current five-star safety rankings, which evaluate the safety of only the people inside the vehicle, will remain in effect. However, NHTSA proposed adding a “pass” or “fail” symbol to represent danger for people outside of a vehicle.

We joined a coalition of advocates, led by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), to submit comments on this proposed update, which highlighted the following suggestions to strengthen NHTSA’s update:

  • Any vehicle that receives a failing grade for pedestrian crashworthiness should be ineligible for a 5-star rating. 
  • Adopt a 5-star scoring system for pedestrian crashworthiness, rather than a pass/fail system.
  • Consider evaluating pedestrian crashworthiness at speeds higher than 25 mph in addition to at or below 25 mph.
  • Incorporate information about other vehicle safety features that are proven to protect people outside of vehicles into the rating system, and ensure no vehicle receives a 5-star rating if it doesn’t include those features. 

This update is a start, but with an ever-increasing number of traffic fatalities each year, the current proposal fails to properly communicate the danger large vehicles pose to people walking and rolling. We’ll continue to call for safer streets for all travelers, whether they’re in or out of a car.

Read our comment letter