Highway deaths continue to decline in the United States, and are now at their lowest levels since the 1950s. Most of the decline can be directly attributed to advances in car safety, and while automotive safety has greatly increased the protection for drivers and occupants of automobiles in crashes, the same cannot be said for pedestrians who are struck by cars.
2009 saw 4,092 pedestrians killed after being hit by cars. That represents 12 percent of the total of all automotive crash fatalities for the year.
A recent report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows that the majority of crashes involving automobiles and pedestrians involve a human that is crossing a road as a car is heading straight, with nothing blocking the view of the pedestrian from the point of the driver and brakes are not applied prior to the crash.
Improved car design has the potential to not only make these sort of crashes less deadly, but even more significant, recent advances in technology may keep them from occurring in the first place.
The majority of efforts at protecting pedestrians in the United States have been centered around roadway design and keeping pedestrians and traffic separate, but advances such as pedestrian detection systems, recently introduced by Volvo with the S60 could prevent 39,000 car-pedestrian crashes a year and save almost 3,000 lives every year as well, say IIHS researchers.
Volvo’s system, generically named “Pedestrian Detection,” can now be purchased as an option on several different models since being introduced with the S60. It uses radar and a camera, which can identify road hazards such as cars or motorcycles that are not moving, or pedestrians in the roadway. The system will alert the driver of such obstacles, and if the driver does not respond, it will brake to stop the car.
Subaru has a similar system, called EyeSight, but thus far, it is only available to purchase on car models being sold in Japan. Other automakers, including Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are also developing pedestrian avoidance systems to be introduced in future models.
One of the drawbacks of the Volvo system is that it is only operational during daylight hours. Both BMW and Mercedes currently feature night vision safety features they expect to adapt into pedestrian detection systems.