Vehicular design has a role to play in reducing pedestrian fatalities, expert says

After a rash of pedestrian fatalities in the Lower Mainland this week, one expert says Canada should pay more attention to the design of motor vehicles in order to prevent pedestrian deaths and injuries. 

Three pedestrians were struck and killed in the area within a span of 30 hours.

They included:

  • An 88-year-old woman who was struck by a truck in Burnaby on Wednesday around 1:15 p.m. PT.
  • A woman in her 40s who was struck by a pickup truck in Abbotsford on Thursday just after 5 a.m. PT.
  • A man in his 30s who was struck and killed after tripping onto the median in Delta on Thursday at 5:50 p.m. PT.

In each case, the driver remained on the scene.

Neil Arason is the director of injury prevention and health settings with the B.C. Ministry of Health and the author of the book No Accident: Eliminating Injury and Death on Canadian Roads. He says the design and size of the car can affect the impact on a pedestrian who is struck. 

Larger vehicles and ones with bull bars — usually installed to reduce damage from collisions with animals or other vehicles — can be deadly in a collision with a pedestrian.

"Research shows that [a bull bar] increases the odds of a pedestrian fatality of about three times because they're hard surfaces, generally," Arason says. 

"The odds of a pedestrian fatality is about 50 per cent higher in a crash with a pickup truck versus a car."

Better design

He says vehicle design — along with improved road design, reduced speed limits, and active collision avoidance systems in cars can also help reduce death and injury. 

"When we do all of these things together, we'll achieve much better benefits," he said. 

Arason says things like a shorter, sloping hood length, softer body features, and a gap between the hood and the engine can all reduce the impact if a car strikes a pedestrian. 

"These changes are pretty low cost. A lot of them are just simple design features in the way vehicles are manufactured to begin with," he said. 

Even bull bars can be made safer, he says, by using a softer material. This is what is done in the European Union, for instance.

"Bull bars are still allowed there, but they have to meet strict criteria," he said. "It's all about engineering. They have all kinds of advanced tests. One is a leg impact criteria, another is a head impact criteria [to] reduce the amount of blunt force trauma on pedestrians."

Getting on board

Arason says while jurisdictions like the EU and Japan have started to include measures for pedestrian-friendly design in their car manufacturing regulations, North America lags behind. 

"Regulation is one way to make sure that it happens and it happens quickly," he said. "Another would be to have greater public awareness and put more pressure onto auto makers to do what's simply the right thing, in my opinion."