Members of the general public often assume that motor vehicles have become safer in recent years. For the most part, that belief is accurate. The vehicles themselves have become safer for the occupants inside them. Better vehicle design, more durable materials and more effective crash testing have all increased survival rates and reduced injury rates when collisions do occur. However, design and manufacturing changes have not yielded similar safety improvements for pedestrians and cyclists.
In fact, the exact opposite seems to be the case. The risk of severe and fatal crashes has seemingly increased for cyclists and pedestrians in many ways. Researchers have been able to connect that increased risk with changing trends in the vehicles that people drive.
Bigger vehicles are simply more dangerous
The overall trend in passenger vehicles seems to be toward larger vehicles. These bigger vehicles can absorb more force during a collision and are more effective at protecting occupants. Unfortunately, they are much riskier for cyclists and pedestrians. Even low-speed crashes are often enough to cause severe or fatal injuries. With more drivers opting for vehicles with the best safety ratings every year, the prevalence of large vehicles on the roads has noticeably increased. Trucks, SUVs, crossovers, vans and hatchbacks are all much larger than the average sedan and therefore much more dangerous to cyclists.
Smaller windows mean more visibility issues
Cyclists are already much smaller than enclosed vehicles. When the vehicles become bigger and taller, it may be more of a challenge for drivers to see a cyclist directly next to or in front of them in traffic. Researchers have connected the increased crash rate to the decrease in window and windshield size. Smaller pieces of glass are less likely to shatter in a crash, but they also create more visibility issues when monitoring the area around a vehicle.
Cyclists obviously need to keep a close eye on all vehicles in traffic. When they encounter larger modern vehicles, their risk is particularly high. Ultimately, understanding what factors contribute to cycling crash risk can help people prevent crashes and to respond to any collisions with motor vehicles that do occur in more informed ways.