The number of pedestrians killed each year by motor vehicles has increased 45% since 2009, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. New technology that’s already available on many new cars and SUVs should help reverse that trend as it makes its way into more cars on road. But it’s not available on every model.
The Institute tested 11 different small SUVs equipped with pedestrian detection and automatic braking systems to see whether each vehicle identified someone in its path or about to cross it. The SUVs were tested by driving them toward human-like mannequins in ways that mimicked real world situations. These systems rely on cameras, computers and sometimes radar and are available either as standard equipment or as an option on many cars and SUVs for sale today.
Systems on the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, Toyota Rav4 and Volvo XC40 did best in the Institute’s tests, receiving a rating of Superior. Systems in the Chevrolet Equinox, Hyundai Kona, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5 and Nissan Rogue were rated as Advanced, the second-best rating. A system on the Mitsubishi Outlander was rated as Basic, meaning it performed minimally well. A system in the BMW X1 was given no credit at all.
The X1’s system, which worked in two of the tests, failed to respond at all in one scenario. In that test, the vehicle, being driven at 37 miles per hour, approached a mannequin that was “walking” along the side of the road. The system used in the X1, an entry-level model, isn’t primarily designed to detect pedestrians, BMW spokesman Tom Plucinsky said. Also, it’s a low-speed system designed to work only up to 60 kilometers per hour, or about 37 miles per hour. The BMW’s own speedometer may have registered the speed as being slightly faster than that, he said.
“We’re always working to improve our vehicles’ across-the-board crash and crash-prevention systems and processes, and will study the results of this round of testing as we develop new vehicles and systems,” said Jeremy Barnes, a spokesman for Mitsubishi Motors North America.
Most automakers have agreed to include automatic braking systems in their cars as standard equipment over the next few years. At their most basic, these systems are designed to brake automatically in the event of an impending collision with another vehicle. Avoiding impacts with humans is a harder challenge.
People are much smaller than cars and SUVs and, since they’re not made of hard metal, they’re less visible to radar systems, said John Scally, chief engineer for active safety systems at Honda’s US research and development center. Also, people can move in hard-to-predict ways and can often be hidden behind vehicles or within crowds of other pedestrians. And they can be riding bicycles or pushing strollers, which make their human forms difficult to pick out.
Most of these systems will sound a tone and flash warning lights that appear in the gauge cluster or are reflected in the windshield to warn the driver there’s a pedestrian in the way. If the driver does not respond, or if there is simply no time left, the vehicle will automatically apply the brakes. Even if the impact can’t be avoided just slowing the vehicle down can make the difference between minor injuries and a fatality, said David Aylor, the Insurance Institute’s Manager of active safety testing. In the Insurance Institute’s tests, some vehicles received high marks even if the mannequin was ultimately struck.
Although relatively new technology, these systems have already made a difference in the real world, according to the Institute. Based on insurance statistics, the Institute has noted that Subaru’s EyeSight system, available since 2012, reduced the rate of pedestrian-related insurance claims by 35%.