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Transportation

The U.S. Could Make New Cars a Lot Less Deadly

Federal safety standards for passenger vehicles have lagged even as drivers have embraced larger, more dangerous trucks and SUVs. The Biden administration could reverse that trend. 

The NCAP’s crash-test safety-rating program, nearly 40 years old, could use a facelift.

The NCAP’s crash-test safety-rating program, nearly 40 years old, could use a facelift.

Photographer: JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

The simple act of taking a stroll or riding a bike is becoming an increasingly risky activity. Some 6,283 pedestrians died on U.S streets and roads in 2018, 42% more than a decade ago, while cyclist deaths rose 38%. Victims were disproportionately Black. (Newer 2019 data shows a small decrease in pedestrian and cyclist fatalities, but an increase in injuries.)  

In response, many city transportation officials in the U.S. have taken steps to improve safety for those walking and biking, such as building new protected bike lanes, lowering speed limits and painting road murals. But at the federal level, leaders have largely sat on their hands as the death toll has climbed. That’s a big problem, because it’s the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) — not cities — that regulates the design of automobiles, which are becoming bigger, heavier, and more deadly as American preferences shift from cars and toward pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles. According to USDOT’s own report, “pedestrians are 2-3 times more likely to suffer a fatality when struck by an SUV or pickup truck than when struck by a car.”