Saving Lives with Pedestrian Detection

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Today's vehicles include an amazing array of driver assist and safety features that are helping to change the tide of driver, passenger, and even pedestrian deaths. Find out how Pedestrian Detection Systems are saving lives.

It only takes a second…

According to a study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), more pedestrians died due to crashes with motor vehicles last year than at any time over the past 30 years and the number of pedestrians killed by collisions with cars has increased an astounding 45 percent since 2009. However, new technology that is currently on the market is reversing that trend. We're talking about safety features such as automatic emergency braking with pedestrian assist.
A study in 2017 by the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) Volpe Center found that pedestrian crash avoidance/mitigation (PCAM) systems have the potential of reducing up to 5,000 crashes between vehicles and pedestrians each year. Even in the event that a crash is unavoidable, the study found that PCAM systems reduce the number of injured pedestrians by lowering the speed of impact.
Imagine you're driving down the road on a bright sunny day. It only takes a second of being distracted to accidentally hit a person walking along the road or a child running out in traffic. Sometimes the accident is caused by a driver or a pedestrian who is glancing at their cellphone. Whatever the cause, a car can be a lethal weapon when striking a human being.
That's where driver assist features come into play. These systems can't be distracted, and they are always on alert. Pedestrian crash avoidance systems are focused on two kinds of collisions; when a vehicle is going straight and a pedestrian crosses the road ahead or behind (when backing up), and when a pedestrian is walking alongside traffic.
Automakers have developed pedestrian detection systems that know when a person is in a vehicle's path, alerts the driver or utilizes automatic emergency braking to prevent a collision. These systems use video cameras, radar, and onboard computers and are standard on many new cars, trucks, and SUVs.
PCAM systems incorporate both auditory and visual warnings to the driver to alert them when a pedestrian is present in the vehicle's path. As of this writing, some systems only offer visual alerts and some only offer a warning tone. They also use two forms of automatic emergency braking. These systems apply the brakes in imminent crashes when a driver does not respond to prompts. Dynamic Brake Assist is a feature that adds maximum braking to assist the driver.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that sponsored research on PCAM systems, tests were performed with test dummies that focused on crash avoidance and mitigation measures. The researchers used real world driver behavioral data as well as historical crash statistics and data to assess the safety impact of Pedestrian detection systems.
The data collected was used to project how many crashes these systems could avoid including how many crashes included death or injuries. Testing included the collection and analyzation of driving and crash simulations to create a 150-page report. This report aimed at estimating the effectiveness of pedestrian crash avoidance systems and projected the safety benefits in terms of annual reductions in the number of vehicle/pedestrian crashes that might occur.

Test Results

Further tests by the IIHS focused on SUV vehicles equipped with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. SUVs were tested by driving toward mannequins in the act of crossing the road in front of a vehicle or as if walking by the side of the roadway. Test results were divided into the categories of Superior for best, Advanced for medium results, and Basic for systems that performed minimally well.
Of the vehicles tested, the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, and Volvo XC40 received Superior ratings. The Chevrolet Equinox, Hyundai Kona, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, and Nissan Rogue received Advanced ratings while the Mitsubishi Outlander took Basic ratings. Only three of the 19 models tested got the lowest score and received no rating at all due to the fact that they failed to respond as predicted. In such an instance, further testing is required.
Human beings or animals are harder for the technology to detect than vehicles. At their most basic, they are designed to detect the presence of another vehicle and brake automatically to avoid a collision. People are harder for radar systems to detect, so pedestrian detection requires video cameras to help map the proper profiles for the system to pick out.
The majority of PCAM systems flash warning lights and sound a tone to alert the driver that a pedestrian is in the way. However, the vehicle will automatically apply emergency braking if the driver does not respond. According to the IIHS, these systems are making a positive difference in real world driving, reducing insurance claims in pedestrian-related accidents by over 35 percent.

The Bottom Line

As more drivers purchase vehicles with pedestrian detection systems, "And adoption and the performance of the technology increases, pedestrian detection could save thousands of lives every year," says Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports. "With over 100 pedestrians killed daily on our roadways, it's encouraging to see more automakers including this technology," Fisher says. "While not all systems are equal, any system that brakes at all could potentially save lives or reduce the severity of injuries."
As we write this, over 40 percent of all new vehicles come equipped with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection.