In a new test of nighttime test of Pedestrian Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) systems, The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) found that only four of 23 vehicles tested earned the highest rating of “superior,” and more than half received a “basic” score or no credit.
The tests come as estimates from the federal government indicate the number of pedestrian fatalities has increased by nearly 80% since 2009, with three-quarters of these deaths occurring at night.
Overall, automatic emergency braking is preventing crashes, reducing crashed with pedestrians by 27% for AEB-equipped vehicles. Crashes that resulted in injuries were reduced 30 percent. Offered on nearly nine out of 10 2021 vehicles, almost half of the tested AEB systems earn “superior” ratings.
“The daylight test has helped drive the adoption of this technology,” said David Aylor, vice president of active safety testing at IIHS. “But the goal of our ratings is always to address as many real-world injuries and fatalities as possible — and that means we need to test these systems at night.”
But AEB is proving far less effective at night, leading the IIHS to initiate the new test.
How the vehicles were tested
Two typical pedestrian crash scenarios are included in the evening test: a pedestrian crossing the street and a pedestrian strolling along the edge of the road. Ambient light is equal to the light cast by a full moon.
The crossing test is conducted at 12 mph and 25 mph, while the other test is conducted at 25 and 37 mph. Scores are based on the average speed decreases in five repeated tests on dry pavement with the headlights on high beam and low beam settings. Scores are adjusted if the vehicle is equipped with high beam assist, which automatically switches between high and low beams.
“The idea is to weight the score according to the beam setting that’s most likely to be switched on at the time of a potential crash,” Aylor said.
How vehicles fared
Vehicles earning the IIHS’s “superior” ranking includes the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Camry and Toyota Highlander. The Camry, Highlander and Mustang Mach-E avoided hitting the dummy in the first test at both speeds, and slowed substantially in the second test, minimizing the impact.
Seven additional vehicles receive the IIHS’s “advanced” ratings: the Honda Accord, Hyundai Palisade, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Frontier, Nissan Murano, Subaru Ascent, and Subaru Outback. In the 12 mph and 25 mph crossing-the-road tests, as well as the 25 mph walking-down-the-road test using high beams, most vehicles avoided colliding with the pedestrian. However, none avoided pedestrian accidents during the 37-mph test.
Eight more earned the IIHS’s “basic” rating. They are the Volkswagen Tiguan, Mazda CX-9, Volkswagen Atlas, Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, Ford Explorer, Ford Maverick and Ford Ranger. At the slower test speeds, some avoided colliding with the pedestrian dummy, but none did so at faster speeds.
The AEB systems in the Nissan Altima, Toyota Tacoma, Honda Pilot and Chevrolet Malibu don’t function well enough in low light to merit any credit. In numerous tests, none slowed down at all or barely did before striking the dummy.
Yet during the day, 19 of these 23 tested vehicles earn “superior” or “advanced” ratings.
“As we expected, most of these Pedestrian AEB systems don’t work very well in the dark,” said IIHS President David Harkey. “But it’s clear automakers can rise to this new challenge, as Ford, Nissan and Toyota each earn superior ratings for some models.”
The numbers that drove the test
IIHS’s test helps spotlight a deadly deficiency in AEB systems. In 2019, 6,205 pedestrians were struck and killed, accounting for 20% of traffic fatalities. Another 76,000 sustained non-fatal injuries from cars trucks and SUVs.
The systems reduce the odds of striking a pedestrian by 32% during the day, and 33% in well-lit areas at dusk, dawn or at night. But Pedestrian AEB appears to make little difference in dark, unlit areas when compared with vehicles without it.
Interestingly, speed can make a difference.
On roads with speed limits of 25 mph or less, pedestrian AEB reduces accidents by 32%, by 34% on roads with 30-35 mph limits, and by none at all on roads with speed limits of 50 mph or more.
With numbers like those, Pedestrian AEB systems are becoming more essential. Drivers who are in danger of colliding with a pedestrian are alerted by Pedestrian AEB, and if necessary, the brakes are applied to help prevent or lessen the impact. AEB system technology varies by manufacturer, but they can use a single camera, a dual camera, a single camera and radar, or radar only.
The new tests should greatly enhance pedestrian safety as it drives automakers to improve the nighttime performance of their Pedestrian AEB systems. For 2023, an “advanced” or “superior” rating in the nighttime test will be required for automakers to earn a Top Safety Pick+ award for a particular vehicle.