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Some cars’ pedestrian detection systems may not work well

Last year, an estimated 6,283 pedestrians were killed by vehicles in the U.S. It was the highest number of pedestrian deaths since 1990.

To address the issue, many carmakers are introducing new safety features, including pedestrian detection systems. These systems typically work through windshield cameras and radar sensors mounted on the front grill. Ideally, the systems would notice and respond to pedestrians in a variety of situations during both daylight and nighttime hours. 

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the reality may be less than ideal. As you might expect, high-end models performed better than less expensive ones. However, no manufacturer claims its pedestrian detection system will routinely work at night, when 75% of all pedestrian fatalities occur. Some models didn’t even perform well in the daytime.

19 models tested, 13 responded effectively in daylight scenarios

The IIHS tested 19 vehicles with pedestrian detection systems. They ranged from mid-level through high-end cars. The organization tested three common scenarios that were within manufacturing specifications:

  • An adult pedestrian crossing the road
  • A child darting into the roadway from behind an obstacle
  • An adult walking along the edge of a roadway

The tests were conducted during daytime hours and on dry roads in order to comply with what automakers would support.

Thirteen of the vehicles either avoided the pedestrian or reduced speed significantly when the pedestrian was detected. Among them were the BMW 3, Mercedes-Benz C-class, Audi A4, Volvo S60, and Nissan Maxima.

Several others failed to respond appropriately to the pedestrian, including the Kia Optima, Hyundai Sonata, Ford Fusion, and Chevy Malibu. These vehicles either failed to reduce speed or failed to notice the pedestrian altogether.

The results were even worse when the tests were performed at night. When the American Automobile Association tested the same 19 models at night, not even one was able to detect an adult pedestrian.

The IIHS has called for carmakers to develop improved headlights that could aid the pedestrian detection systems in spotting pedestrians after dark. However, a spokesperson also commented that the technology is still in its infancy. He said we should acknowledge the accomplishments so far and encourage automakers to continue to improve.

You can’t yet rely on technology to prevent crashes

Unfortunately, some people have already concluded that advanced technology, such as pedestrian detection systems, allows drivers to safely tune out when behind the wheel. We are not there yet. Whether you’re using simple cruise control or an automated driver assistance system, always pay close attention to the road, and be ready to take over the operation of your vehicle in an emergency.

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