The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants to change its vehicle safety consumer information program to better educate consumers on how well vehicles guard pedestrians against injury.
The federal agency is seeking to amend its New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) to “provide valuable safety information to consumers about the ability of vehicles to protect pedestrians.”
It said doing so could incentivize automakers to produce vehicles built with safeguards that could prevent or minimize pedestrian injuries. As part of its efforts, NHTSA is requesting public comment on the proposed updates.
The testing methodology it wants to use would evaluate the potential risk of head, pelvis, leg and knee injuries suffered by pedestrians struck by the front of a vehicle.
Vehicles that score well would use designs that absorb energy, reduce hard points of contact and include front-end shapes to mitigate injuries to a pedestrian, NHTSA said.
The scoring would put the most weight on head impact test results, followed by upper leg injuries and then lower leg injuries. The administration would award a pedestrian protection safety credit to vehicles that score at least 60%.
It said it would implement the program as self-reporting, where OEMs provide data to the agency to review. NHTSA would perform tests on certain new models each year to ensure they meet the performance levels.
“Ensuring the safety of pedestrians is a top priority at [the Department of Transportation], and these proposed updates to NCAP are an important step in addressing the crisis of roadway deaths in America,” said Ann Carlson, NHTSA’s chief counsel. “Vehicles must be designed to protect their occupants while increasing safety for those outside the vehicle, too.”
NHTSA said it is also developing a proposed rule setting safety standards for automatic emergency braking (AEB), including pedestrian AEB systems for newly manufactured light vehicles which can prevent or minimize collisions.
“Although vehicle-to-pedestrian crashes do not occur as frequently as vehicle-to-vehicle crashes, they are especially deadly,” NHTSA said.
This isn’t the first time NHTSA has outlined the need to upgrade NCAP with crashworthiness pedestrian production. It previously did so in 2015, at the time noting that more than 4,000 pedestrians have been killed, and another 70,000 injured, by vehicles annually since 1975.
A group of federal representatives, alongside several safety coalitions, has joined the call in prioritizing pedestrian protection. In a letter to NHTSA, the group noted that as vehicles have become larger, blind spots have grown alongside them, increasing the chances of a pedestrian being struck.
“Larger cars and trucks are one reason why pedestrian fatalities have reached a ten year high in the United States,” said Mike McGinn, executive director of America Walks. “Their increased weight, towering front grilles, and poor visibility from the driver’s seat make these vehicles deadlier than the smaller ones they replaced.
“Larger cars and trucks are not the sole cause of the rise in pedestrian deaths, but the federal government has the direct ability to fix the known issues that make them lethal. We urge USDOT to use its authority over vehicle safety ratings and standards to regulate size, design, and visibility for the protection of people outside of vehicles.”
The letter is supported by a coalition of transportation safety organizations, including America Walks, the National Association of City Transportation Officials, the League of American Bicyclists, the Center for Auto Safety, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Families for Safe Streets, Kids and Cars, Vision Zero Network, It Could Be Me, Smart Growth America, Transportation For America and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.
It cited a NHTSA statistic that showed nearly 7,500 pedestrians were killed by cars in 2021, the highest number in 40 years.
The letter also referenced research that shows Black and Brown pedestrians are more likely to be struck and killed by vehicles. It encouraged NHTSA to incorporate safety assessments that improve pedestrian safety for people of color.
“How many more people must die or get severely injured on our roads before we begin implementing the known solutions to prevent these tragedies?” said Triny Wellerton, president of It Could Be Me, who survived a near-fatal crash while cycling in Colorado.
“We need the right policies and political will. And unfortunately, we are doing everybody a disservice by not utilizing all available tools. Many people say I am lucky to have survived my crash. However, safety should never have to be about luck.”
NHTSA is accepting comments on its proposed NCAP changes until July 14.
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