Automakers are working hard to protect some of the most fragile things on the road: pedestrians.
According to NHTSA, pedestrian accidents account for approximately 13 percent of the 33,000 traffic fatalities that occurred in 2012. While automakers are beginning to use advanced technologies that help prevent vehicle-to-vehicle collisions, the next big step is to reduce the number of vehicle to pedestrian accidents.
A Foundation for Safety Systems
Collision alert systems use cameras and radar to detect large objects that post a risk. The radar detects the speed of the object in front of you while the camera can sees the size and shape of the object.
Once an obstacle is detected, your car will alert you of a potential crash, usually with lights and sounds. Some cars, like Mercedes models with PRE-SAFE can pre-charge the brakes.
“This means that when the driver brakes, up to 100 percent of braking power can be applied,” said Terry Wei from Mercedes-Benz Product & Technology Communications. “Additionally, other safety systems such as Distronic Plus with Pre-Safe Brake (available in the E, S, CL, CLS and GL-Class vehicles), the vehicle will brake autonomously up to 100 percent.”
Recently, the IIHS has made front-collision mitigation features a part of the criteria necessary to get a Top Safety Pick Plus rating and it’s easy to understand why. Cars equipped with these systems can reduce the impact speed and potentially stop accidents before they ever happen.
Watching out for Pedestrians
It might seem uncharacteristically altruistic, but automakers are looking to make things safer for pedestrians as well. Advanced cameras and radars can detect objects that are smaller than a car, allowing it to stop an accident with a motorcycle, bicyclist or pedestrian.
Volvo offers this suite of safety systems on new 2015 models S60 equipped with the Technology package.
“Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection with full auto brake consists of a radar unit integrated into the car’s grille, a camera fitted in front of the interior rear-view mirror and a central control unit,” said Laura Venezia from Volvo’s Corporate Communication team. “Thanks to the dual-mode radar’s wide field of vision, pedestrians and cyclists can be detected early on while the high-resolution camera makes it possible to spot the moving pattern of pedestrians and cyclists.”
Audi, Mercedes and BMW also offer pedestrian detection systems, but only on vehicles equipped with night vision cameras. These cameras actually use infrared specs, helping them to detect humans and animals by showing them in a brighter shade on a screen in the car.
Other automakers are looking into less expensive ways to avoid hitting pedestrians. For example, Honda is developing a smartphone-to-vehicle communication system called Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC). This idea uses a smart-phones GPS radio to send out signals that get picked up by a car.
When a car detects a pedestrian that is likely to walk into a vehicle’s path, the system provides an audible and visual alert to the driver. At the same time, the pedestrian’s phone also pauses whatever it is doing to delivers a warning, interrupting music, voice or texting functions that may be active. Aside from being less expensive than an array of cameras and radar sensors, this solution has the added benefit of helping the pedestrian stay alert about the cars around them. Honda hasn’t yet said when this system might be introduced with production cars.
Other automakers are taking the autonomous function to the next level. Toyota has a system that improves on the pedestrian detection system found in the range-topping Lexus LS sedan. Like other crash avoidance systems, the system alerts the driver, pre-loads the brakes and then applies them if you don’t. But if the car gets too close to the pedestrian, it will also automatically steer the car away from the person. Toyota hopes to offer its basic system (non-steering assisted) on a wide range of vehicles in 2015, before introducing this new steering assisted version.
Over ten percent of traffic fatalities in the U.S. involve pedestrians, so it’s good to see automakers using technology to make the streets safer for everyone on the road including motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians.
While cameras and radars are the currently accepted method of pedestrian detection, Honda’s example of DSRC shows connected cars could even help alert pedestrians of potential dangers. As the saying goes: “Safety is a two-way street.”