Reducing pedestrian crashes is the goal of new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ratings of automatic emergency braking systems that can detect and brake for people on foot. In the first tests of 2018–19 vehicles with this crash avoidance feature, 9 of 11 small SUVs evaluated earn an advanced or superior rating for pedestrian crash prevention.
The 2018–19 Honda CR-V, 2019 Subaru Forester, 2019 Toyota RAV4 and 2019 Volvo XC40 earn the highest rating of superior. Five models earn an advanced rating. They are the 2019 Chevrolet Equinox, 2018–19 Hyundai Kona, 2019 Kia Sportage, 2018–19 Mazda CX-5 and 2019 Nissan Rogue. The 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander is rated basic, and the 2018–19 BMW X1 doesn’t receive any credit for a rating. Pedestrian detection is standard on the Forester, RAV4, Rogue, X1 and XC40.
The ratings come amid renewed focus on the problem of crashes involving pedestrians. Pedestrian deaths have risen 45 percent since reaching their lowest point in 2009. In 2017, 5,977 pedestrians died in crashes in the U.S., down 2 percent from 2016, which marked the most deaths since 1990.
Automatic emergency braking systems that can detect and brake for pedestrians are one important countermeasure to address the problem. A 2018 Highway Loss Data Institute analysis found that Subaru’s EyeSight system with pedestrian detection cut the rate of likely pedestrian-related insurance claims by 35 percent, compared with the same vehicles without the system.
In general, pedestrian detection systems use a forward-facing mono camera or stereo cameras mounted near the rearview mirror plus radar sensors in the front grille to continuously scan the roadway and horizon for pedestrians and, in some cases, bicyclists or animals, who might cross the vehicle’s travel path. Algorithms classify the objects as people, bicyclists or animals, predict their travel path and determine the vehicle’s speed in relation to them. If a collision is imminent, the system typically alerts the driver and can apply the brakes far faster than a human could react.
The pedestrian autobrake test is the fourth crash avoidance evaluation in the Institute’s quiver of safety tests. IIHS began rating front crash prevention systems in 2013, headlights in 2016, and rear crash prevention systems in 2018. Under the new program, vehicles rate as basic, advanced or superior, based on their ability to avoid or mitigate a crash with pedestrian dummies in three different test track scenarios run at different speeds.
The tests address three common pedestrian crash scenarios.
“The first scenario involves an adult pedestrian on the right side of the road entering the street in the path of an oncoming vehicle. This is the most common type of crash involving a pedestrian,” explains David Aylor, the Institute’s manager of Active Safety Testing.
“The second test simulates a child darting into the street from behind two parked vehicles. As a dad, I know this is every parent’s nightmare,” Aylor says. “The third test scenario replicates an adult walking in the vehicle’s travel lane near the edge of the road. The adult’s back is turned away from traffic.”
Vehicles are scored according to their average speed reductions in five repeated test runs on dry pavement. Tests are conducted at 12 mph and 25 mph in the perpendicular adult and child scenarios, and at 25 and 37 mph in the parallel adult scenario.
The four superior-rated and five advanced-rated small SUVs had significant speed reductions in every test scenario. That meant the SUVs almost avoided and, in some cases, did avoid striking the pedestrian dummies.
“The best possible outcome is to avoid hitting a pedestrian altogether,” Aylor says. “When a crash is unavoidable, sharply reducing a vehicle’s travel speed would give someone on foot a far greater chance of surviving any injuries in a similar real-world encounter with a passenger vehicle.”
When seconds count
The most challenging test is the perpendicular child scenario. The 45-inch-tall dummy, which represents an average-size 7 year-old, is hidden by a car and an SUV parked on the right side of the road as the test vehicle approaches. There is no clear line of sight for the camera until the dummy emerges from behind the parked vehicles when the test vehicle is about 2 seconds, or 35 feet, away in the 12 mph test or just under 2 seconds, or 65 feet, away in the 25 mph test. When the child dummy enters the travel lane, the test vehicle is roughly 1.5 seconds away.
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