Don’t just relay on your vehicle’s pedestrian detection systems

By Kimberly Schwind - Special to the Inquirer

COLUMBUS — New research from AAA reveals that vehicle technology designed to stop cars to avoid pedestrian crashes is inconsistent in most situations and completely ineffective at night, when 75 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur.

For the safety of everyone on the road, AAA supports the continued development of these pedestrian detection systems, specifically when it comes to improving functionality at night and in circumstances where drivers are most likely to encounter pedestrians.

Pedestrian Crash Data

On average, a pedestrian is killed every 88 minutes in traffic crashes in the United States, totaling almost 6,000 people annually. In Ohio, 132 pedestrians died in traffic crashes last year, according to the Ohio Department of Transportation. That’s nearly 5 percent higher than the five-year average (2014-2018).

Pedestrian crashes account for 16 percent of all traffic deaths nationally and 12% in Ohio, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“Pedestrian fatalities are on the rise, proving how important the safety impact of these systems could be when further developed,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations. “But, our research found that current systems are far from perfect and still require an engaged driver behind the wheel.”

Evaluating New Technology

The first pedestrian detection system came to market in 2011. These systems are now more common on newer vehicles. While they are intended to help mitigate a collision, they are not intended to replace an engaged driver.

In partnership with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, AAA evaluated the performance of four midsize sedans equipped with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection to determine the effectiveness of these systems.

Key Findings

Previous research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that pedestrians are at greater risk for severe injury or death the faster the car is traveling at the time of impact. AAA’s latest study found that speed impacted system performance as well, with results varying between testing performed at 20 mph and 30 mph.

Overall, the systems performed best in the instance of an adult crossing in front of a vehicle, traveling at 20 mph during the day. In this case, the systems avoided a collision 40% of the time. But, at the higher speed of 30 mph, most systems failed to avoid a collision with the simulated pedestrian target.

The other scenarios proved to be more challenging for the systems:

  • When encountering a child darting between two cars, with the vehicle traveling at 20 mph, a collision occurred 89 percent of the time.
  • Immediately following a right hand turn, all of the test vehicles collided with the adult pedestrian.
  • When approaching two adults standing alongside the road, where the vehicle was traveling at 20 mph, a collision occurred 80 percent of the time.
  • In general, the systems were ineffective in all scenarios where the vehicle was traveling at 30 mph.
  • At night, none of the systems detected or reacted to the adult pedestrian.

“The rise in pedestrian deaths is a major concern and automakers are on the right path with the intent of these systems,” continued Brannon. “Our goal with this testing is to identify where the gaps exist to help educate consumers and share these findings with manufacturers to work to improve their functionality.”

Safety Recommendations

New vehicle technology can alert drivers and assist in lessening the likelihood or severity of a crash – whether with another vehicle or even more importantly, a pedestrian. But, until these systems are proven to perform consistently, AAA recommends drivers always:

Be alert of their surroundings. Do not rely on vehicle technology to prevent a crash.

Read the vehicle owner’s manual to understand what safety systems the vehicle is equipped with.

Use extra caution when driving at night, since it’s the riskiest time for pedestrians and where the systems struggle the most.

It is a driver’s responsibility to yield to pedestrians, but those traveling by foot should be diligent as well. Pedestrians should use caution by staying on sidewalks and using crosswalks as often as possible. Always obey traffic signals, look both ways before crossing the street and do not walk and text.

By Kimberly Schwind

Special to the Inquirer

Kimberly Schwind is a senior public relations manager at AAA

Kimberly Schwind is a senior public relations manager at AAA