Pedestrian detection systems finds mixed results in safety study

cars on urban road

The performance of modern pedestrian detection systems varies broadly between automakers, with high-end luxury brands normally faring better and other models failing to recognize pedestrians altogether, as per a study released on Tuesday by a U.S. insurance research group.

The assessment comes at a time when pedestrian fatalities on U.S. roads are increasing, with an estimated 6,283 people on foot killed by vehicles in 2018, a year that observed the highest number of cyclist and pedestrian deaths since 1990.

Automakers are beefing up accident avoidance technology on latest cars,
progressively making the systems part of their standard equipment in 2020 models.

Pedestrian detection systems, permitted by windshield-mounted cameras or radar sensors in a car’s front grill, are coupled with a car’s automatic emergency braking system and meant to stop the vehicle if it discovers a pedestrian in its path.

The study by the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) discovered that not all systems perform equally well. Of the 19 latest-year editions and models IIHS tested, 13 avoided pedestrians completely, or at least managed to decrease speeds significantly.

While the best-performing cars included luxury models Audi A4, BMW 3 series and a version of the Mercedes-Benz C-class, IIHS also gave its best rating to the Nissan Maxima and Volvo S60.

The Chevrolet Malibu, a Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima, were among tested cars that did not reduce speeds in some tests or failed entirely.

The IIHS testing scenarios included an adult crossing the road, a child darting out from behind an obstacle and an adult walking near the edge of the road – situations that account for over half of all pedestrian fatalities.

All tests were carried out during the day and on dry roads, as those are the only scenarios for which automakers presently commit their technology, stated IIHS President David Harkey.

“This technology is in its infancy,” Harkey stated in a phone interview. “But let’s acknowledge what the automakers are doing well and motivate them to do more.”

Tests by the American Automobile Association (AAA) previously this month showed more devastating results when the technology is tested at night, a time when 75% of pedestrian fatalities happen.

Not one of the 2019 test cars – a Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Accord, Tesla Model 3 and Toyota Camry – could find an adult pedestrian in the dark.

IIHS’s Harkey called on automakers to also develop better headlights to make it permissible for systems to spot pedestrians at night.

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