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Pushing The Envelope — New Mail Truck Has A Stamp Of Approval For Safety

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Last week, the U.S. Postal Service rolled out the new design for their delivery trucks, and there have been some fun reactions.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

On social media, people have called it adorable and compared the new, smaller truck to a duck, the popemobile and characters from the Pixar movie "Cars." But the quirky features that turned the truck into an instant meme were designed to save lives and might be the key to making the roads of the future safer and more efficient.

ALISSA WALKER: We're still seeing an increase in pedestrian fatalities, and a lot of people do believe that that is because the cars on our streets have gotten bigger and bigger over the last decade.

KELLY: That is Alissa Walker, writer at the urban design website Curbed. She is impressed that this new design seems to be thinking smaller. The truck is more compact, but it features a bigger cargo space and specialized hatches for more efficient storage. And because the driver sits lower, the windshield is taller and wraps around the entire front and sides of the vehicle, which increases visibility.

SHAPIRO: There's one feature that is particularly important for the safety of pedestrians - the hood.

WALKER: It's got this very low, kind of stubby bumper that sticks out in the front end.

SHAPIRO: That low bumper can save lives compared to the taller and more blunt hoods on most big vehicles today.

WALKER: The big criticism with these kind of lifted SUVs, big trucks is that they'll hit you right in your torso, right where your, you know, vital organs are located. And that's more likely to result in a very serious injury or death.

KELLY: And that is because you would either be thrown off in front of the vehicle or, worse, under the vehicle. Instead, Walker says the new, low bumper would hit you in the leg, so you're less likely to have a serious injury and more likely to just roll over to the side.

SHAPIRO: Walker says we could see these new trucks as early as 2023, and she's hopeful for more changes in the delivery and auto industries.

WALKER: When it comes to right-sizing vehicles, the federal government could be requiring that if you are operating this type of vehicle in an urban environment, that you need to consider those things and make sure it's small enough and nimble enough for city streets.

KELLY: While she hopes manufacturers take these safety features seriously, she sees the fact that people are paying attention, even just having a little fun with the design, as a step forward.

WALKER: If we can get people thinking about, why does it look a little bit quirky, a little bit weird? - we might be able to have some bigger conversations about what it takes to keep people safer on our streets.

SHAPIRO: So giggle all you want when a duck-shaped truck drops off your mail. But know that all that cuteness signals safety.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE POSTAL SERVICE'S "SUCH GREAT HEIGHTS (INSTRUMENTAL)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.