Pedestrian Accidents: Federal Safety Agency Seeks Changes in Vehicle Design

Pedestrian deaths caused by motor vehicles are a serious problem in New York City and elsewhere across the country. Nationally, the figures are startlingly high. According to federal data, cars claimed the lives of nearly 4,300 pedestrians in 2010.

Most of these deaths are in urban areas. In fact, the statistics show that about 3 of every 4 fatal pedestrian accidents occur there, where there are more walkers and joggers.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is working on a plan to address the problem. Next month, the agency is expected to propose a safety standard that calls to changes in how automakers design the hoods and bumpers of vehicles. The goal is to design and manufacture hoods and bumpers in ways that absorb more of the impact when cars hit people – and therefore to minimize the severity of pedestrian injuries.

Safety advocates say that this type of design is already used in Europe. American pedestrians will be safer, these advocates argue, when the U.S. adopts the new standards.

Under current federal law, the required strength of vehicle bumpers is based on a factor other than pedestrian safety: namely, the reduction of repair costs in low-speed crashes. The law would have to be amended to allow for weaker bumpers that reduce the impact on pedestrians.

Most carmakers seem resistant to such a change. They prefer to tout new technologies that are supposed to help prevent crashes, such as automatic braking systems that sense when cars are getting too close to pedestrians.

The NHTSA administrator, David Strickland, believes that both electronic crash-prevention tools and vehicle redesign are both needed in order to cut down on the high number of pedestrian deaths.

Source: “Pedestrian deaths rise; NHTSA rules planned,” USA Today, Jayne O’Donnell, 8-6-12

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