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New Study Finds Pedestrian Safety Features in Cars Fail in Most Dangerous Circumstances

By Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S. on December 21, 2019

Research reveals that pedestrian safety features built into new cars fail in the deadliest situations. Researchers in a new AAA study found that automatic emergency braking systems with pedestrian detection perform inconsistently and are entirely ineffective at night. These findings are particularly alarming, as 75% of pedestrian fatalities occur in the dark.

The study also found that the safety systems failed in real-life situations, such as a vehicle turning right into the path of an adult pedestrian. In simulated scenarios, the systems did not react at all, invariably colliding with the adult pedestrian target.

Pedestrian Safety at Night

Darkness creates a particularly high risk for pedestrians, as reported by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). Approximately half of the pedestrian fatalities nationwide in a recent year occurred between the hours of 6 p.m. and midnight, and 75% occurred after dark. Pedestrian deaths after dark from state to state ranged from 50% to 84%. GHSA evidence-based strategies to make pedestrians more visible to drivers include improved street lighting, high-visibility crosswalks, and rapid-flashing beacons mounted to pedestrian crossing signs at crossings mid-block.

Data About Pedestrian Accidents

  • On average, nearly 6,000 pedestrians are killed in traffic crashes nationwide every year.
  • Pedestrians account for 16% of all traffic deaths, as reported by AAA.
  • One pedestrian fatality occurs every 1.5 hours in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • During a recent ten-year period, pedestrian deaths increased by 27%, while all other traffic fatalities decreased by 14%, as reported by GHSA.
  • The seven states, including Washington, that legalized recreational marijuana between 2012 and 2016 had a collective 16.4% increase in pedestrian fatalities during the first six months of 2017, while all other states, collectively, experienced a 5.8% decrease in pedestrian deaths.

Risk Factors for Pedestrians

Factors contributing to pedestrian accidents reported by GHSA include:

  • Decriminalization of recreational use of marijuana in certain states: Cannabis impairs judgment and reaction time for all road users.
  • Cell phone use: Smartphones in active use in the U.S. increased by 236% in a recent seven-year period, while the number of multimedia messages more than tripled.
  • Darkness: Most fatal pedestrian accidents occur during the nighttime hours.

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