The left’s latest attack on pickup trucks is because they’re large and scary and allegedly bad for the environment.
Unlike with the right to bear arms, there is no constitutional amendment protecting our right to own vehicles — other than a generally recognized right to move about freely (Crandall v. Nevada, 1867) — and, with almost all roads owned by the government, this could become a problem.
With that, the ongoing campaign against “Big Truck” — or, as we call them in Texas, simply “my truck” — is bound to lead to additional restrictions to “save the planet” and “save the children.”
The latest push against large pickup trucks takes two basic forms: They’re large and scary and hurt people, and they’re bad for the environment, especially with people not really needing them for anything practical.
The large and dangerous argument goes like this: Americans only drive big trucks because Americans are vain, and big pickup trucks have become a status symbol, with mostly suburban owners citing their truck’s “ruggedness” and “power.” As further proof, detractors claim most of these large rides don’t even have a trailer hitch.
Of course, one thing many Americans don’t much take a liking to is other people telling them what they must do with their purchases and lifestyle. I don’t own a large pickup truck — yet — but if these pearl-clutching busybodies don’t mind their business, I’m sorely tempted to go out and buy one.
Child vs. Adult Deaths
As a result, after making some comments on Twitter and having an Ivy League liberal claim that large pickups are “behind the uptick in pedestrian deaths, especially little kids, and are obviously worse for the environment (both air quality affecting our health now and global warming affecting life more broadly)…so it hurts a lot of other people for no practical gain,” I decided to look into a key contention — that more “little kids” have been getting killed by big pickup trucks.
I opened the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention database on the unintentional deaths of pedestrians by motor vehicles via its WISQARS™ (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System) database and ran two series. One was pedestrian deaths, ages 0-14 from 2000 to 2020, and the other was pedestrian deaths from ages 18 to 85+ over the same period.
What followed is very interesting. Contrary to the claims of some, pedestrian deaths among “little kids” have been steadily dropping since 2000. This might be due to a few factors. First, the use of alcohol while driving has been dropping. Second, as the CDC helpfully notes, alcohol was a factor in 46 percent of crashes resulting in a pedestrian death in 2019, but only about 30 percent of these involved the driver while 70 percent were due to a drunk pedestrian. The CDC went on to note, “Most pedestrian deaths occur in urban areas, on roadway locations away from intersections (where higher speeds might occur), and at night.”
In other words, conditions are far less likely to involve a child and far more likely to involve alcohol- or drug-impaired adults.
The graph I created from the CDC data does show a drop in adult deaths through the Great Recession when driver miles dropped after years of slowing growth, likely connected to increased internet usage among young would-be drivers. Then, as people got back in their cars, pedestrian deaths climbed.
But oddly enough, during the Covid-19 lockdowns, vehicle miles plunged by almost 13 percent at one point in 2020. Yet despite the reduced miles driven, the number of pedestrians ages 18 to 85+ unintentionally killed by vehicles rose from 6,359 in 2019 to 6,682 in 2020 for a rate of 2.6 per 100,000. In fact, 2020 saw the highest number and rate of adult pedestrian deaths in the 20-year period measured.
Thankfully, the number of child fatalities ages 0 to 14 saw no meaningful statistical change in 2020 compared to 2019, with 235 dying for a rate of 0.39 per 100,000 vs. 228 in 2019. Compared to 2000, the rate of adults being killed by vehicles increased by 39 percent while the rate of children ages 0 to 14 being killed fell by 56 percent. This is odd, for if an increasing share of large pickup trucks on the road were responsible for increased carnage, you’d expect to see it among children and adults alike.
Critics of large pickup trucks say, among other things, that the trucks are so large that drivers can’t see pedestrians just in front of them (assuming that their modern collision avoidance warning system isn’t working). Yet were that the cause of an increase in accidents, we would also expect to see an increasing death toll among young children, but we don’t. So, what else might be driving these fatalities? What might adults be doing that’s killing them on the roads?
Returning to the CDC, it noted that in 2019, almost half of pedestrian fatalities involved alcohol, and of those, 70 percent involved an impaired pedestrian.
In the city of Austin, Texas, the left-wing city council reversed a longstanding policy in July 2019 regarding where the homeless could sit or lie down or “camp” on public spaces such as sidewalks, rights-of-way, and city parks. Overnight, Austin became one large homeless encampment. It got so bad that a majority of Democrat voters voted for a ballot initiative to overturn the ordinance in May 2021.
Not coincidentally, the Austin Police Department started to report pedestrian deaths involving homeless people in 2019, finding that 19 of 36 pedestrians killed that year were homeless. Pedestrian fatalities rose in 2020. In 2021, 45 pedestrians died in Austin, rising to 50 in 2022.
But with the city council cracking down on wrongspeak, the Austin Police Department grew quiet on reporting homeless traffic deaths. Instead, we see government officials emphasizing the erection of a pedestrian crossing barrier on I-35, Austin’s main north-south freeway, with the barrier reducing crashes with pedestrians by 89 percent.
Last month, a member of Austin’s “Vision Zero” team — so named for the intent to reduce traffic deaths to zero, a statistical impossibility without also eliminating vehicles — dutifully pointed out, “We have large vehicles that are engaging with other vehicles or are engaging with other people outside of vehicles, so the speed matters tremendously and mass of the vehicle matters as well.” He went on to note, “People (are) wanting to walk around and bike around, and there aren’t as many safe crossings of our major freeways and frontage roads that are needed for people to get around safely.”
He might have added, “For people to get around safely while blasted out of their minds screaming at unseen forces.” In October, the same crew, injecting race into traffic deaths, claimed that crashes disproportionately affect Austin’s communities of color. Morning commutes in downtown Austin often feature random homeless people crossing between intersections and weaving through busy traffic.
The New York Times ran an article last February about the increase in pedestrian fatalities during the pandemic. The piece cited Harold Medina, the police chief of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who mentioned three factors: more aggressive driving, more drunk driving, and a growing homeless population.
Thus, it’s possible that changes in behavior caused by Covid-19 lockdowns, such as an increase in alcohol abuse, as well as increasing homelessness (up 15 percent from 2016 to 2020), might be the main driver behind the 10 percent increase in adult pedestrian deaths over that same time.
Thus, general societal dysfunction, some of which is downstream from government policies, once again serves as a justification for activists to demand that government come for something the taxpaying citizenry use. Will the left soon demand a “certificate of need” be issued before anyone buys trucks of a certain size?
The replacement for all those big, gas-guzzling trucks and cars will be even heavier electric vehicles that will cause even greater injuries to pedestrians while doing unprecedented amounts of damage to the roads — Ford’s F-150 pickup truck weighs in at 4,021 to 5,025 pounds — well exceeded by the Tesla X Long Range sedan at a hefty 5,185 pounds.