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Study: Fatal pedestrian crashes are up, especially involving SUVs

Light trucks and SUVs now make up 67 percent of the American auto market, according to vehicle registration data collected by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Unfortunately, that could be bad news for pedestrians. The IIHS also found that an increasing number of fatal pedestrian crashes involve these vehicles, which are more dangerous to pedestrians than other private vehicles.

It's a serious problem. According to the government statistics, pedestrian deaths are on the rise. The number that occurred in 2016 was the highest since 1990. Between 2009 and 2016, the IIHS found, pedestrian fatalities rose in every set of circumstances they examined, but particularly when SUVs were involved.

"The average annual increase in crashes involving SUVs was 3.1% higher than the increase in other vehicle types combined, and the difference was significant," wrote the study's authors.

Part of the problem is simply the shape of SUVs and light trucks. Their front ends are higher and more vertical in structure, which means they are more likely to strike pedestrians in the head or chest instead of in the legs, making collisions deadlier.

That said, it's not clear that SUVs and light trucks are behind the overall increase in pedestrian deaths. Over the last few decades, speed limits have been climbing across the nation. Road design may be part of the problem, if pedestrians aren't provided with frequent, well-lit crossings. And, people may be walking more.

According to the study, while children and adults 70 and older are the most likely to die in pedestrian accidents, the fastest growth in these fatalities is among people between 20 and 69. Moreover, between 2005 and 2015, a million more people reported walking as their primary mode of transportation.

In California, pedestrian fatalities make up 23.9 percent of all traffic fatalities, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It listed Los Angeles as the city with the second highest number of pedestrian fatalities, following New York City.

Both pedestrians and drivers need to do more to reduce these tragedies. One way of doing so is to hold the responsible parties accountable in court.

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