Our national addiction to super-sized SUVs is killing us

Instead of rewarding pedestrians and cyclists, we punish them as second-class travelers.

We’re walking the concrete tightrope to school — a narrow sidewalk flush with the street, an inch from oncoming traffic — and a harried parent in a giant sport utility vehicle throttles toward us, engine roaring and belching like an ill-mannered dragon. I wince as 3 tons of steel whooshes past my 11-year-old daughter.

If she were an iron lamppost or a stone wall, maybe the driver would slow down. But she consists of softer elements, like the infinite possibility of childhood, so the driver speeds past.

We should be encouraging kids to walk or bike to school — those who do are better able to concentrate, according to a Danish study of 20,000 students — and we urgently need to cut fossil fuel use. And active transport isn’t just for kids: More than 140,000 commuters walk or bike to work in metro Boston, according to census data. Every pedestrian you pass represents one less car clogging traffic or spewing exhaust in the school drop-off line.

Yet, instead of rewarding pedestrians and cyclists, we punish them as second-class travelers, subjecting them to the constant threat of road violence. Pedestrian fatalities have spiked 80 percent in the United States since 2009, according to the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In Massachusetts, more than 100 pedestrians were struck and killed by vehicles in 2022 — an all-time high, according to a MassDOT report.

A new year’s resolution can help: It’s time we slimmed down our roads and oversized vehicles.