Dangerous Vehicles? Some States Aren’t Waiting For the Feds

Size, weight, and lack of visibility are making vehicles more lethal in crashes with pedestrians – and a number of states and local governments aren’t waiting for federal regulation.

That oversize pickups and SUVs are dangerous to pedestrians is apparent, but research is now nailing down exactly how lethal they are. A recent study concludes that increasing the height of the front of a car or truck by four inches increases the probability that someone will be killed in a crash by 22 percent.

The researcher, Justin Tyndall of the University of Hawaii produced the following grim chart assessing the probability of death by vehicle type.

Height is not the only factor, vehicle weight matters as well. It is worth noting that EVs will generally be heavier due to battery weight, so this creates an even greater need to address overall vehicle size. And of course, the driver of a huge vehicle moving at high speed is less likely to see pedestrians and be able to stop quickly enough.

The federal government has the authority to regulate vehicle design. While we see needed safety rulemakings underway (pedestrian detection, automatic braking, safety ratings based on danger to pedestrians) these do not go to the heart of the matter – the size and speed of vehicles.

So what are state and local governments doing?

It is an imperfect tool, but the District of Columbia  has changed registration fees in an attempt to discourage oversize vehicles. In MD, Delegate Robbyn Lewis introduced a bill to increase the registration fee for private vehicles over 3000 lbs – HB28 Pedestrian Fatality Prevention Act of 2024. Senator Omar Fateh has introduced similar legislation in Minnesota. If you know of other similar legislation, let us know, we expect this trend to gather momentum.

The most bold action to regulate vehicles comes from California, where State Senator Scott Weiner introduced legislation to require all new vehicles sold in California to come equipped with Intelligent Speed Assistance (ISA). We’ve been pushing state and local governments to install ISA on their fleets, building on successful implementation in New York City, Ventura County, California, and Somerville, Massachusetts.

ISA was also in the news when the National Transportation Safety Board urged USDOT to begin requiring ISA on vehicles. The District of Columbia (again) demonstrated leadership on safer vehicles by requiring installation of ISA on cars driven by chronic speeders.

When we started the Safer Fleets Challenge we recognized that we might be going against some strong cultural headwinds that speeding was somehow a “right” held by drivers. In fact, NYC’s implementation allows modest speeding over the limit in recognition of actual highway speeds, while simultaneously wiping out dangerous and reckless speeding in vehicles with ISA. And consistent with predictions, we have seen the argument that ISA is a dangerous impingement on freedom. But taking stock – seeing the NTSB, California, D.C. and other state governments starting a serious discussion on dangerous vehicles tells us that more and more Americans want safer vehicles too.

Help us gain momentum on safer vehicles. Urge your local government to take the Safer Fleets Challenge. Let us know of other local efforts. Together, we can do this and save lives.