Road crashes are the leading cause of death and hospital admission for people under 50 years old in the European Union. In the UK 100 people per week die in road accidents. For every death, eleven require hospital treatment and two people suffer permanent disability. (1*) A New Zealand study showed that victims of road traffic crashes accounted for 30% of intensive care admissions and 40% of inpatient days in their Auckland based intensive care unit.
In 2001 the EU determined that by 2010 the 40,000 road deaths a year (of the then members) should be reduced by by 50% by 2010(2*) Figures available suggest it is virtually unchanged – as more vehicles hit the road , each other and pedestrians.
22 years of crash research has been coordinated by the European Enhanced Vehicle-safety Committee, they originally proposed standardised car crash tests in 1991 and updated them in 1994 and 1998. The Governments of Catalonia, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, support the resultant tests, which are undertaken by Euro NCAP in 3 classes : Adult occupants, Pedestrians and Children and the results are available here. Check your vehicle out, it makes sobering reading
The British Medical Journal in an editorial today reveals that SUV’s , result in more frequent and more severe damage to pedestrians, especially the vulnerable old and the young and now represent almost 8% of new UK registrations. In the United States 40% of new vehicles purchased are classified as light trucks or vans. Analysis of accidents show that, for the same collision speed, the likelihood of a pedestrian fatality is nearly doubled in crash with an SUV compared with a passenger car. If you want to learn more about the physics of car crashes, and how injuries rise as a square of the speed, go here . More sobering reading.
People over 60 are more than four times as likely to die if injured in a crash.
Small children are over represented in driveway accidents with SUV’s, probably a result of the increased height of the vehicle and the driver's reduced ability to see things immediately around the vehicle. An Australian study in New South Wales (2004) showed that typically, the injury involved a parent or relative reversing a motor vehicle in the home driveway over a toddler or preschool-age child in the late afternoon or early evening. Four-wheel-drive or light commercial vehicles were involved in 42% of all injuries, such vehicles were associated with a 2.5-times increased risk of fatality. In 13 of the 14 deaths, the cause was a severe head injury not amenable to medical intervention.
It is a popular belief that increase in vehicle mass of SUV’s results in an increased hazard to pedestrians. However, mass is important in car to car crashes, but given the large disparity between the weights of the pedestrian and of the vehicle is a variable of no significance to outcomes. Increased mortality and morbidity arises primarily from the geometry of the front end structure and speed of impact. Typically in a car crash, the bumper strikes the lower legs and the leading edge of the bonnet strikes the femur/pelvis, causing the pedestrian to rotate towards the bonnet resulting in the head and shoulders hitting the bonnet or windscreen. Consequently the principal pedestrian injuries from cars are fractures of the tibia and fibula and knee injuries from the primary bumper impact and secondary head injuries from impact with the bonnet or windscreen.
The leading edge of SUV’s at (typically 850mm) are a great deal higher than cars (500mm) so crash impact, results in a more severe primary impact on the critical central body regions of the upper leg and pelvis. This results in a doubling of injuries to vulnerable regions such as the head, thorax, abdomen and internal soft organs.... gulp!So called “bull bars” which are often fitted on SUV’s are an extra (and unecessary) hazard which result in, isolating any built in “crumple zones” and focus the energy on impact, so that it is not disspated and results in forces of many tonnes per square inch, just as being trodden on by a high heel, increases the force of impact compared with a normal shoe heel.... but hey they look good...Whoooop de doooo!!!!
Advertising for vehicles always stresses safety to the occupants, crumple zones, air bags, seat belts, and never that of pedestrians – the potential purchaser never wants to be reminded that the vehicle they are buying is a lethal weapon which keeps A & E (ER) intensive care units busy around the world, around the clock.
General Motors SUV and light truck sales fell 30 percent in September Ford’s 20%, even with employee pricing .. perhaps these gas guzzling behemoths of the blacktop are on the way out … and helping making the roads in the US that bit safer. In 2004 US road fatalities fell overall from a peak of 43,000 in 2002 to 42,000 with all types of vehicle classes declining except SUV’s and motorcycles (up 6/7%) ..... an astonishing 17,000 or 40% were alcohol related.
1. European Transport Safety Council. Transport safety performance in the EU: a statistical overview. Brussels: ETSC, 2003.
2. Commission of the European Communities. White paper on the common transport policy for 2010: Time to decide. COM (2001) 370, 2001.)
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