Motor Vehicles and Pedestrian Safety

Road traffic crashes and accidents claim 1.2 million lives and 10 million injuries worldwide every year.  More than one third of these numbers apply to pedestrians.

For example, according to the Report by the (European) Commission to the European Parliament and the Council:  Saving Lives: Boosting Car Safety in the EUOn average. . .pedestrians and bicyclists account for 30% of transport fatalities overall, but for almost 43% in urban areas.” (CARE distribution of fatalities by mode of transport in the EU 2013) 

How many of these fatalities and severe injuries are results of driver error, impaired driving or other unsafe driving practices. . .and how many are due to inherent vehicle safety, both mechanical and technological elements–including brake systems, and possibly too-heavy wheels and unsuitable tires? It is conservatively estimated that at least a third of the cases applies to the latter category.

 Vehicle safety tends to focus on improving the protection a car provides its driver and occupants, but vehicles can also be designed to be safer for pedestrians.

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Some studies and statistics exist regarding wheel sizing, wheel weight, and the pros and cons of “plus-sizing.”  (“Plus-sizing” refers to, for example, changing a standard 16” diameter wheel for an 18” diameter wheel, which in this case entails a “Plus-2 Fitment.”) Although switching out the OE (Original Equipment) wheels and tires that are specifically designed and tested by a car manufacturer in favor of something bigger is an attractive proposition for many drivers (big wheels can add “bling” to a car’s appearance, and they can enhance handling and performance), it can also be dangerous if not done right, putting the drivers themselves, along with their passengers and other drivers, as well as pedestrians, at greater risk.

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A car’s suspension and braking systems are engineered to deal with a certain amount of “unsprung weight”–those components not supported by the springs, i.e., the axles, wheels and tires. Plus-sizing to larger (heavier) wheels–in too many cases with wheel/tire sets that aren’t perfectly compatible or aren’t of a quality at par or higher as compared to the OEM parts–puts more strain on the springs and shocks. That extra weight can mean a lower level of steering control (especially at cornering), and even possible misinformation about the car‘s velocity (because the speedometer is calibrated to measure how fast you’re moving based on the rotational speed of the wheels; bigger wheels rotating at the same speed as smaller ones will make the vehicle go faster, creating potential problems with ABS and stability control systems). And very importantly, it may take longer to stop the vehicle. These are all major factors to consider in maintaining maximum control over the vehicle, and thus minimizing the probability of accidents, either with other cars or with pedestrians.

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Enacting and monitoring stringent rules and regulations pertaining to plus-sizing wheels and tires, along with other aftermarket applications, can make cars safer (the European Commission report cited above notes tire blowouts as a serious factor in loss of vehicle control; reducing the weight of wheel-tire combinations, in addition to mandatory features like tire-pressure monitoring systems, could help dramatically alleviate this risk). Other measures to make vehicles safer for pedestrians include:

— designing a vehicle’s front end, in terms of shape and structural stiffness, so that pedestrians and other road users are less likely to be injured in the event of impact. According to the UK’s The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), “the changes in the shape of many modern vehicle fronts, compared to older vehicles, has been influenced by pedestrian protection.”  (RoSPA recently reported the highest number of road deaths in Britain since 2011 (1,792 people killed in 2016, with pedestrian deaths up by 10 per cent compared to 2015.)  Design modifications can include increasing the crush depth between the outer surface of the vehicle and hard objects underneath (such as engine parts)

–testing with crash dummies that replicate real-life pedestrian crashes, and involve vehicle deceleration and stopping distance rates, and force measurements; testing that includes factors like bumper heights and energy absorption, and front end spaces between the hood and engine components underneath

–shortening braking distance, by way of a more robust high-performance brake system being installed at OEM level, and also reducing the weight of wheels (one of the numerous significant advantages that forged wheels provide)

The world is becoming increasingly mobile. Autonomous vehicles are burgeoning. Many places are seeing populations aging. These are among critical, common-sense, life-and-death issues. Governments must heed the technological advancements to improve mechanisms that increase control over a vehicle and maximize braking capabilities to shorten the stopping distance. Even a small improvement can be crucial. Both the U.S. and the EU should lead in funding of continuous, extensive, in-depth research aimed at enhancing the safety of vehicles.  Upgrading automotive safety equipment and respective standards should be a prioritized reality. It is imperative that governing bodies enact and enforce regulations upon manufacturers, as well as tuners, that facilitate the safest possible vehicles available to motorists.  Such actions will increasingly ensure pedestrians’ safety.  

 

Pedestrians of the World Unite!

Help uphold pedestrians’ rights through stricter legislation–by making cars and other motor vehicles safer. Petitions are now being collected aimed at initiating legal action in Washington and Brussels.  Please visit http://chn.ge/2hmkYrW and sign the petition–to effect change, and protect your rights.

 

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