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Should new vehicle standards include pedestrian safety features?

| Jan 6, 2021 | Pedestrian accidents

Many Spring residents like to get their daily exercise by taking brisk walks or going for bike rides. But these simple acts are becoming increasingly risky activities on U.S. streets and roads.

Grim pedestrian toll

More than 6,500 people died in pedestrian accidents in 2019, the Governors Highway Safety Association says – the highest total in more than 30 years.

Safety experts say there’s no mystery involved in the dramatic rise in serious pedestrian injuries and fatalities – the blame, they say, is in the designs of increasingly popular SUVs and pickups.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) says “pedestrians are 2-3 times more likely to suffer a fatality when struck by an SUV or pickup truck than when struck by a car.”

In November, USDOT released its Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, which included plans for a pedestrian safety month, a summit on safety issues and other initiatives. Critics say it’s time for the federal agency to do more.

Time to update old standards?

A recent Bloomberg CityLab article suggests that updating the four-decade-old standards in the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) would spur auto manufacturers to create and implement less deadly SUV and pickup designs.

NCAP researchers stage violent wrecks of new vehicles with crash test dummies as vehicle occupants. The tests enable NCAP staff to assess how the vehicle’s structure, materials and safety features will protect real people in real collisions.

Unfortunately, NCAP’s standards have stagnated since the program’s 1979 creation and automakers long ago figured out exactly how to meet them. In 2019, every single vehicle tested by NCAP received either a four- or five-star rating.

Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said, “It’s no longer an assessment program. It’s become a rewards program for automakers.”

The next time you shop for a vehicle in a Spring area dealership, you’ll see the NCAP stickers with safety ratings on a window of all vehicles.

Expanded safety focus

While NCAP’s focus is solely on the people inside the vehicle, elsewhere governments are pushing automakers to focus on pedestrian safety, too. The European Union, Australia, Japan, Korea and Japan all conduct pedestrian safety tests on new vehicles.

If automakers want top safety ratings in those markets, vehicles must include sensors that stop or slow vehicles before striking a pedestrian – and vehicle hood and carriage designs that minimize damage when collisions do occur.

If NCAP standards were updated to include pedestrian safety features, automakers in search of coveted high safety ratings would respond by equipping more vehicles with existing safety technology and incorporate safer designs.

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