A Tale of Two Trucks: Why US Pickups Need European-Style Regulations

Why don't we have European rules that make trucks safer for the people around them?

Chevrolet Silverado and Ford Transit
Chevrolet Silverado and Ford Transit.

Lloyd Alter in North Bay, Ontario

Safe streets and walkable communities are key to reducing our carbon emissions from driving, which is one reason we complain so often about the trend away from cars and to SUVs and pickup trucks. The latter, officially known as light trucks, is disproportionately likely to kill pedestrians and cyclists. As the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) noted in a report, "The data suggest that the elevated danger to pedestrians from SUVs in these crashes may be largely related to injuries caused by impacts with the vehicles’ leading edge: the bumper, grille, and headlights."

Many studies conclude the increasing weight of these trucks contributes to the carnage: "First, the additional weight means the vehicle will take longer to come to a stop and will strike with more force as compared to a lighter vehicle. Second, large vehicles have higher front ends, affecting the point of impact on a pedestrian."

Low hood is safer for people
Low hood is safer for people.


European light trucks have far more sensible designs because they have to meet Euro NCAP (European New Car Assessment Programme) standards that protect pedestrians. I got particularly excited about the Ford Transit, which has a low sloping front end and great visibility. Pedestrians are more likely to be seen, and when they are hit, are more likely to roll up on top rather than having to be picked out of the grill.

When I was recently doing a lecture in North Bay, Ontario, I saw a big Chevy Silverado parked directly next to a Ford Transit. I got close to the pickup, close enough to somehow set off an alarm—I didn't touch it! Really!—to notice the top of the hood was at about my nose level. I could look straight into the Transit. Of course, I tweeted out the photo and got more likes and comments than I have had for years.

Reddit picked up post


The tweet also got picked up on Reddit, where it got 4500 comments.

Trucks make sense for some


There were a number of comments from people who use them for work and, of course, that is what they were originally designed for. But as Ryan Cooper wrote in "The Case Against American Truck Bloat":

"Trucks and SUVs do not make up 70 percent of automobile sales nowadays because Americans are now 70 percent contractors and HVAC repairmen. Nor has the average pickup gained 730 pounds since 2000 because 100 million people have taken up cattle ranching. The vast majority of SUV and truck drivers would have driven a sedan in previous ages, and for these people it's about looks, power, speed, and perceived safety for drivers. Thinking about pedestrians might upset this comfortable arrangement."

craig tweet about work


People are still commenting on Twitter. But they are getting increasingly nasty and personal, with soy latte type comments just the start of it, because, in the U.S. and Canada, pickup trucks have become part of the culture war, the real working man versus the city boy who doesn't.

Ford truck Euorpe


In fact, Ford offers real working vehicles that can do the same job, which still can be designed for good visibility and greater safety. One would think that people who work all day with their trucks would care about this.

Transit gets gold rating
AEB: Autonomous Emergency Braking.


In Europe, every vehicle has to meet standards for pedestrian and cyclist safety. They now have Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) that apparently works. They write about the Ford Transit: "The system also detects vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists, and here it scored well. Even in the most challenging of Euro NCAP’s pedestrian tests—a child running from behind parked cars into the path of the vehicle—the system responded well up to around 40 km/h and, in general, collisions were avoided or mitigated for pedestrians and cyclists."

After a week of being asked "You’ve never done an honest days work in your life have you?" or being told that I don't know the difference between a truck and a van—they are both legally light trucks under U.S. regulations—I come to the same conclusion that I have in earlier posts: Make light trucks as safe as cars or ban them from cities. It's obvious this is doable; every new European light truck does it.

These massive American pickup trucks and SUVs are killing kids and older people at twice the rate of regular cars. So many of the commenters suggest they need a pickup for work or for towing, but there is no reason that they need to have those deadly front ends and terrible visibility. Why not regulate this?

View Article Sources
  1. Tyndall, Justin. "Pedestrian deaths and large vehicles." Economics of Transportation, vols. 26-27, Jun-Sep 2021. doi:10.1016/j.ecotra.2021.100219

  2. "Commercial Van Ratings." Euro NCAP.