Repairer Driven News
« Back « PREV Article  |  NEXT Article »

IIHS: ‘Designers must make vehicles safe for everyone, not just drivers and passengers’

By on
Announcements | Technology
Share This:

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Senior Vice President of Research Jessica Cicchino says improving pedestrian safety will take better road and infrastructure designs as well as vehicle design.

A similar conclusion was recently made by a U.S. Congressman and safety advocates who pushed for a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of U.S. vehicle safety design standards concerning vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and bicyclists.

Congressman Jamie Raskin (D-Maryland) shared earlier this month that the GAO will conduct a review following a letter he sent to the agency that addressed nationwide high levels of traffic injuries and fatalities.

Cicchino wrote last week that everything from vehicle size and shape to software “has a profound effect” on the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, and other road users.

“Through our research and testing programs, IIHS is identifying vehicle improvements that can work in conjunction with infrastructure and enforcement changes to produce a safer transportation system for all,” she wrote.

Vehicle size and shape

SUVs, pickup trucks, and light vans are more likely to kill or seriously injure pedestrians and cyclists when involved in a crash compared with sedans, according to Cicchino, with SUVs climbing from 24% of registered vehicles in 2013 to 36% in 2023.

“Recent research from IIHS demonstrates that the height and shape of their front ends is part of what makes them dangerous,” she wrote. “We found that passenger vehicles with front ends more than 40 inches off the ground and vehicles with blunt front ends between 30 and 40 inches high were more likely to kill pedestrians than vehicles with shorter hood heights and more sloping front-end profiles.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed a program to test vehicles on how well they protect pedestrians but Cicchino says it wouldn’t account for the “outsize role” larger vehicles play in U.S. pedestrian fatalities.

“Poor visibility is another possible factor in the danger larger vehicles pose to pedestrians,” she wrote. “We found that SUVs, pickups, and light vans are more likely than sedans to hit pedestrians at intersections while turning. It’s possible that structures like the A-pillar or side mirror, especially large ones, make it harder for drivers to see a crossing pedestrian. We are conducting research now to see if poor visibility explains why larger vehicles are overrepresented in turning crashes.”

She added that there are some positives to vehicle design trends, including pedestrian automatic emergency braking (AEB), which reduces crashes involving pedestrians by 27%.

“[E]ven when it doesn’t prevent a crash, it can reduce the severity of the pedestrian’s injuries by lowering the impact speed. More and more vehicles are being sold with this technology standard, and NHTSA recently mandated it on new vehicles starting in 2029. Crash prevention systems that detect cyclists are not as prevalent, but they hold promise.”

Other vehicle design technologies that Cicchino says are positive improvements include:

    • Better quality headlights rated “good” by IIHS by increasing roadway visibility rose from 1% in 2016 to 42% in 2023;
    • Use of intelligent speed assistance (ISA) to curb speeding — A trial is ongoing using the feature on New York City-owned vehicles, and bills proposed by California and Washington D.C. lawmakers to mandate ISA use when speeding 10 mph or more over the speed limit.

However, a 2023 study by IIHS concluded that new in-vehicle safety technology is also making auto repairs more complicated.

IIHS surveyed drivers of vehicles equipped with front crash prevention, blind spot detection, and other visibility-enhancing cameras. Among those who had the systems repaired about half had issues with the features afterward, though they were usually easily fixable, according to the study.

Properly repairing advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) equipment can be both challenging and costly, the report said. While a standard windshield replacement could cost $250, windshields with front crash prevention could cost at least $1,000 to repair, an IIHS Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) study found. The extra cost is attributed largely to recalibrating ADAS features.

Of the drivers who participated in the IIHS study, those who had their windshield replaced or were involved in a crash were most likely to report post-repair trouble with features. About two-thirds said the repairs involved calibration.

The study failed to take into account insurer pushback and failure to prioritize adherence to OEM procedures as contributing factors to more complicated repairs, according to some diagnostics specialists.

For example, Car ADAS Solutions Chief Executive Greg Peeters said the issues he’s observed in calibration centers involve mounting, positioning, and aiming sensors. Following all OEM procedures and documenting every step for each task are musts to ensure an accurate calibration. Doing so also takes time and the right environment. But part of the problem is that some insurers and repair shops don’t always facilitate the need to do things the right way, he said.

Josh McFarlin, executive vice president of operations at AirPro Diagnostics, said the trouble began when scans and electronics service compensation categories began appearing in labor columns. He said there was an assumption that body technicians or mechanics could properly service the safety systems of 45 unique brands.

Safe infrastructure

In Cicchino’s article, she elaborates that it’s not just vehicles that contribute to road safety. Infrastructure changes are also important.

“As important as vehicle design improvements and technology are, we can’t rely on them alone to improve safety for nonmotorists,” Cicchino wrote. “It can take decades after a new safety feature is introduced for it to be present on nearly every car on the road. Moreover, even advanced technology will not prevent every crash…”

In addition, the following should be done, she added:

    • Setting and enforcing safe speed limits;
    • Design roads to require drivers to choose safe speeds;
    • Modify intersections and crosswalks to increase pedestrian visibility and driver awareness;
    • Increase separation between pedestrians and cyclists and vehicles;
    • Allow pedestrians to enter crosswalks at intersections before vehicles are given a green light;
    • Remove parking near intersections; and
    • Improved roadway lighting so drivers and vehicle crash prevention systems can see pedestrians more easily.

“Improvements to roadway design can mitigate the negative effects of increasing vehicle size,” Cicchino wrote. “An SUV, pickup, or light van traveling at a lower speed will be less likely to seriously injure or kill a pedestrian or cyclist. Street design changes that reduce speeds of left-turning vehicles at intersections (through left-turn traffic calming treatments) or right-turning vehicles (through a decreased corner radius) can similarly reduce the severity of turning crashes.”

IIHS is currently investigating if crosswalk lighting improves performance on the test track following 2022 findings that pedestrian crash prevention systems don’t work well in the dark.

“Design that accounts for human vulnerabilities and can accommodate mistakes made by drivers and other road users is the backbone of a safe system,” Cicchino wrote. “Making this country safe for walking and cycling will require ongoing commitment and investment from those who design our roadways and those who design our vehicles.”


Featured image provided by IIHS

Share This: