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AAA ran a number of different common scenarios to test the effectiveness of various pedestrian detection systems. The results were not encouraging.

This story has bene updated with additional information.

A growing number of vehicles are being equipped with advanced driver assistance systems, or ADAS, designed to reduce the risk of crashes. That includes technology meant to detect pedestrians, bicyclists and even large animals.

But a new study by AAA warns that many of the pedestrian systems don’t live up to their advanced billing and can fail in a number of situations, especially after dark.

That’s a particular problem considering that pedestrian fatalities have been rising at an alarming rate over the past decade, in 2018 reaching a 28-year high that saw more than 6,000 deaths in the United States.

(For more on the surge in pedestrian, bicycle deaths, Click Here.)

“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.”

The study, conducted jointly by the AAA and the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, examined the effective of the pedestrian detection systems on four midsize sedans, the 2019 Chevy Malibu, 2019 Honda Accord, 2019 Tesla Model 3 and 2019 Toyota Camry. Working on a closed course using dummies, they examined a variety of common scenarios, including:

  • AAA isn’t the only group to raise concerns about pedestrian detection technology. This BMW X1 fared poorly in a test by the IIHS.

    ·        An adult crossing in front of a vehicle traveling at 20 mph and 30 mph during the day and at 25 mph at night.

  • ·        A child darting out from between two parked cars in front of a vehicle traveling at 20 mph and 30 mph.
  • ·        A vehicle turning right onto an adjacent road with an adult crossing at the same time.
  • ·        Two adults standing along the side of the road with their backs to traffic, with a vehicle approaching at 20 mph and 30 mph.

(Exterior Airbags Could Save Lives of Passengers and Pedestrians)

The systems generally worked well in some circumstances, notably when an adult crossed in front of a relatively slow-moving vehicle during daylight. But even then, they proved effective at completely preventing a collision just 40% of the time. As speeds rose, effectiveness fell, however, AAA noting that “at the higher speed of 30 mph, most systems failed to avoid a collision with the simulated pedestrian target.”

And even at just 20 mph, the systems failed to prevent a collision 88% of the time in a scenario in which a child darted out into the road from between two cars.

One of the concerns is what will happen when autonomous vehicles start rolling out. Will they do a better job at avoiding pedestrians?

Making matters worse, the two travel and safety groups reported that:

  • ·        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.

TheDetroitBureau.com has reached out to the four automakers for response. Toyota offered up some insights and we will add comments from the others as they respond.

“We remain committed to NHTSA’s voluntary automatic emergency braking (AEB) goal established in 2016 and we have made AEB standard across most of our lineup. IIHS estimates that AEB may help prevent 28,000 crashes and 12,000 injuries by 2025,” Toyota said in a statement to TheDetroitBureau.com.

“It should be noted, in AAA’s ‘How do vehicles equipped with pedestrian detection systems perform when encountering an adult pedestrian crossing the roadway?’ test the Toyota Camry stopped 100 percent of the time, with an average 4.60 feet clearance to the pedestrian.”

(Deaths caused by red light runners reach 10-year high.)

The AAA study isn’t the first to raise concerns about pedestrian detection systems. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also has encountered mixes results in its own studies. Experts say such problems raise broader concerns for what will happen when autonomous vehicles, especially completely driverless models, start taking to the road in large numbers.

In the meantime, the AAA cautions that neither motorists nor pedestrians should count on today’s ADAS technologies to prevent a potential crash, instead remaining vigilant and acting on their own if a collision seems likely.

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