Vehicle size trends and safety

Negative safety consequences linked to increasing vehicle size trends

More large vehicles are on our streets despite their disproportionate likelihood to kill and seriously injure people

A large GMC pickup truck dwarfs the size of an adult in a parking lot at night.

The market share of large vehicles — including SUVs, light-duty trucks, and vans — grew from about half of the country's market share to three-quarters between 2012 and 2021. At the same time, traffic deaths on U.S. streets are increasing. People driving vehicles killed 12 people for every 100,000 vehicles in 2012; a decade later in 2021 that number rose to 14 people for every 100,000 vehicles.

Vehicle size and weight is a contributing factor to this trend in increasing severity of crashes. The impact force of a crash increases at greater travel speed as the vehicle increases in size, i.e., the impact force of a pickup truck at 45 mph is greater than the impact force of a sedan at the same speed.

Line graph showing that the impact force increases at greater travel speed as the vehicle increases in size.

Large vehicles are more dangerous for people

Research tells us that crashes that involve large vehicles (compared to cars, i.e., sedans) are more severe:

  • At speeds greater than 20 mph, larger vehicles have an exponentially greater impact force compared to smaller vehicles.
  • The taller front end of large vehicles increases the likelihood of striking a person's torso, causing more injury than striking a person in their legs.
  • If a person driving a SUV hits a pedestrian at 40 mph or above, they will likely kill that pedestrian. If a person driving a car hits a pedestrian at the same speed, there’s about a 50% chance they will kill the pedestrian.
Diagram comparing the size of a Ford F-150 pickup truck, an average adult, and a child; it can be challenging to see a small child from the driver seat of a Ford F-150.

Safe vehicle design is critical to protecting all road users  

Safe System approach recognizes the need to address speeding, street design, and vehicle size and technology to achieve Vision Zero. The following are some national efforts to encourage people to purchase safer vehicles:

  • PBOT joined national partners in calling on the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to update new car safety ratings to include crash risks for people outside of the vehicle
  • The USDOT proposed requiring automatic emergency braking in all new vehicles to dramatically reduce crashes with pedestrians and people bicycling as well as rear-end crashes
  • Washington, D.C. raised the annual registration fee for heavier vehicles

Large vehicle drivers can help keep people safe by slowing down

Slower driving speeds save lives — and especially when drivers are behind the wheel of bigger, heavier vehicles. It is particularly critical that people driving large vehicles drive at or below the speed limit, and drive alert and ready to brake for people.