Rates of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Fatality by Vehicle Type

I first noticed several years ago when reviewing IIHS SUV safety data, that it has been noted by several studies published in the early 2000’s that a the risk of pedestrian death in a traffic collision varied widely depending on the vehicle type / bodystyle. The major categories of vehicle type are: Passenger Vehicles, Light Trucks (includes pickups, SUV, vans), Heavy Trucks, Motorcycles, and other (not sure exactly where Buses are).

Passenger cars and Light Trucks make up the large majority of registered vehicles, and also of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the US. It was noted that Light Trucks were associated with significantly more pedestrian deaths, using VMT as a proxy for exposure.

There seem to have been no more recent updates to this observation. And also was no mention of bicyclist fatalities using similar methods.

Existing Studies

Studies published based on FARS data from approx 1995-2002 have shown SUVs/Light Trucks are significantly more dangerous to pedestrians compared with automobiles: “Analysis of these three databases has clearly demonstrated that pedestrians have a substantially greater likelihood of dying when struck by an LTV (light truck or van) than when struck by a car.”  The fatality and injury risk of light truck impacts with pedestrians in the United States, Devon E. Lefler, Hampton C. Gabler, Accident Analysis and Prevention, v.36, pp. 295-304, Elsevier (2004)  (see also an earlier paper/version from the same authors  The Emerging threat of Light Truck Impacts with Pedestrians is basically the same article)

Similar study published in 2005 Injury Prevention: United States pedestrian fatality rates by vehicle type by L J Paulozzi of the CDC, using 2002 FARS data “Compared with cars, the RR (relative risk) of killing a pedestrian per vehicle mile was 1.45 (95% CI 1.37 to 1.55) for light trucks… The greatest impact on overall US pedestrian mortality will result from reducing the risk from the light truck category”. This methodology is very straightforward, it takes the FARS data and segregates it by bodystyle (the paper does not state exactly how that was done; it looks easy, see below); and computes the RR (relative risk) based on Table VM-1, which is in Section V of FHWA Highway Statistics 2002.

A newer (but probably not newer data) meta-study, that references the Paulozzi study, among others,  has very similar result: Do light truck vehicles (LTV) impose greater risk of pedestrian injury than passenger cars? A meta-analysis and systematic review. ”the risk of fatal injury in pedestrian collisions with LTVs compared to conventional cars was odds ratio 1.54, 95 percent confidence interval 1.15-1.93″


More Modern Data; and include Bicyclists

The data is all available in any Traffic Safety Facts Annual Report, e.g. here is 2011 and 2012 (search the library for other year).

Tables 7, 8, 9, 10 lists VMT (and number of registrations, too) yearly back to 1975. Tables 99 and 104 list the number of pedestrians or cyclist killed by bodystyle of striking vehicle for Single-Vehicle crashes for the year of the annual report. Note the large majority of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities arise from a Single-Vehicle crash (90% or more); Single-Vehicle is NHTSA nomenclature and refers to exactly one involved motor vehicle.

Here is a spreadsheet with the data as-extracted from Traffic Safety Facts 2012/11.

Combined 2011 & 12 Rate killed per billion VMT; Relative Risk (RR)
pedes rate pedes RR cyclist rate cyclist RR
pass cars 1.28 1.00 0.18 1.00
light trucks 1.32 1.03 0.24 1.34

The headline numbers are that for pedestrians, the relative risk is nearly the same; this is quite different from the number found in earlier year’s data referenced above.

The second headline number is that Light Trucks are associated with significantly higher number of bicyclist fatalities based on VMT. Why might this be?


Looking for VMT broken down in various ways; and not really finding anything. I can’t even figure out where the VMT listed in Traffic Safety Facts Tables 7,8,9, 10 comes from? — it lists VMT broken down into Passenger Car, Light Trucks, Heavy Trucks, and motorcycle (missing is: other, and bus); saying the source is the FHWA, along with this relevant note:

Notes: In 2011, the Federal Highway Administration implemented an enhanced methodology for estimating registered vehicles and vehicle miles traveled by vehicle type. These revisions were applied to data from 2007 through 2012. In some cases the changes were significant and should be taken into account when comparing registered vehicle counts and/or vehicle miles traveled for 2006 and earlier years with the numbers for 2007 and later years.

The trouble is, I can’t find any such breakdowns at the FHWA statistics site, e.g. 2012. which seems very well-organized. VMT data is in section 5. The closest thing I found is table VM-1, which breaks down vehicle types in an entirely different classification system; e.g. they don’t list passenger cars vs. light trucks; they list short versus long wheelbase light vehicles (phew!?). VM-1 helpfully lists overall totals for 2012:  2,968,815 Million VMT, and  253,639,386 registered motor vehicles.

This FHWA article which relates to estimating GHG (greenhouse gas) explains a lot of possibly helpful minutia regarding VMT; there’s this thing called the Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS) which sounds good at first but, again, doesn’t seem to be able to discrimate between body styles. Direct odometer readings are a possibility; i.e. combined with vehicle registration data.

One thought on “Rates of Pedestrian and Bicyclist Fatality by Vehicle Type”

  1. this 2016 treehugger article “Make SUVs and light trucks as safe as cars or get rid of them” seems to refer to the Gabler and Lefler studies; they have a chart that says only: source:AAP (Accident Analysis and Prevention) fatalites per 1000 impacts between vehicles and pedestrian

Comments are closed.