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High-Riding SUVs Largely To Blame for Bicycle Crash Deaths: IIHS

Ever-higher hood lines and sheer bulk seem to make SUVs far deadlier to cyclists compared to regular cars.

Cars keep getting bigger. SUVs, in particular, keep getting taller with poorer sightlines to boot. A new report suggests these design choices are leading to higher rates of injuries and deaths for cyclists.

According to a report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the pure geometry of modern SUVs is the problem. “SUVs tend to knock riders down, where they can also be run over, rather than vaulting them onto the hood of the vehicle,” says IIHS Statistician Sam Monfort. “That’s probably because the higher front end of an SUV strikes the cyclist above their center of gravity.”

Manfort reviewed detailed data from 71 bicycle crashes in Michigan as part of the study. The data set covered crashes between a single SUV or car and a cyclist over the age of 16. The study looked at police reports, medical records, and crash reconstructions, among other data. The study also intended to investigate the role of pickup trucks, which have similarly grown in stature in recent years. However, there were not enough pickup crashes in the dataset to include them in the study.

Using the Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS) and the Injury Severity Score (ISS), Monfort compared injuries between SUV and car crashes with cyclists. Per the AIS, Monfort found that head injuries were inflicted by SUVs at a rate 63 percent higher than regular cars. The ISS data revealed that SUV-involved crashes scored 55 percent higher on trauma to the body as a whole.

Notably, there was a strong pattern to the crashes analyzed by Monfort. Only SUVs were responsible for running cyclists over, often causing injuries with their wheels or undercarriage. In contrast, cyclists only ended up vaulting onto the roof in incidents with cars. Windshields and the roof were the prime cause of injury to cyclists in these cases.

The study results also indicated that ground impact injuries happened over twice as often in crashes between SUVs and cyclists, versus crashes involving cars. The results suggest that SUVs tend to knock cyclists to the ground, where they are then liable to be run over by the vehicle. The report follows earlier research by the IIHS that revealed SUVs were more dangerous to pedestrians than regular cars. Both studies concluded that the high front ends of modern SUVs were at fault for the issue.

Sadly, fatal bicycle crashes are on the rise in the U.S. 2010 saw just 621 fatalities recorded, with that number climbing to 932 by 2020. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 130,000 cyclists are injured each year in road crashes. Cyclists account for over 2% of fatalities in motor vehicle crashes, despite bicycles making up just 1% of all trips in the US.

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Overall, it’s a dark assessment of modern SUVs. Poor sightlines are bad enough, but it seems that the very design of these vehicles is causing greater injuries, too. It’s obvious to anyone that has stood in front of a hulking modern SUV at a crosswalk, but it’s affirming to see real-world data bear this out.

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