4x4 health warningOff-road cars pose deadly threat

07 October 2005

All 4x4s should come with a health warning to alert buyers to the deadly threat these cars pose to pedestrians.

That's the conclusion of a report in the influential British Medical Journal (BMJ).

Off-roaders - 4x4s - are more likely to kill or seriously injure pedestrians than ordinary cars, say researchers writing in the journal. However, our own research shows that some 4x4s are more pedestrian-friendly than others.

The BMJ report's authors argue that the car's design makes it more dangerous because the bonnet rather than the bumper is the first thing to hit pedestrians. This first strike hits the critical central body regions of the upper leg and pelvis, and topples the victim with such force that the cars cause double the normal number of injuries to vulnerable areas such as the head, chest, and stomach.

Pedestrian injuries from ordinary cars are less serious leg fractures and knee injuries caused by the bumper; head injuries come from secondary impact with the bonnet or windscreen.

New safety risk

The authors point to US studies which found that, for the same collision speed, the likelihood of a pedestrian fatality is nearly doubled in a collision with a large 4x4 compared with a passenger car. Other studies report as much as four times the risk of severe injury and death.

The increased use of the lethal cars - sales have increased by 15% across Europe recently - along with the increase in vulnerable pedestrians such as pensioners, is creating a new public health risk, the authors argue. They recommend labelling the cars with warning notices to inform consumers of the dangers.

Commenting on the BMJ article, Which? car expert David Evans said: 'Although it appears that 4x4s cause more harm because they are heavier and bigger, we found no hard evidence for this in our safety tests. For example, the Honda CR-V is proof that even off-roaders can be more pedestrian friendly, with the right design.

'We've long been calling for all new cars to be made less aggressive to pedestrians in a crash. Just a little forethought at the design stage can provide pedestrian-friendly designs that cost very little extra, potentially saving lives, whatever the vehicle.'