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New research from AAA reveals that automatic emergency braking systems designed to keep pedestrians safe perform sporadically throughout the day and are completely ineffective at night. This is alarming, considering 75% of pedestrian fatalities occur after dark. The systems tested by AAA also performed inadequately in several real-world scenarios, such as failing to stop when turning into the path of an adult. For the safety of everyone on the road, AAA supports the continued development of pedestrian detection systems, specifically when it comes to improving functionality at night and in circumstances where drivers are most likely to encounter pedestrians.

On average, nearly 6,000 pedestrians lose their lives each year, accounting for 16% of all traffic deaths, a percentage that has steadily grown since 2010.

“With pedestrian fatalities on the rise, it’s more important now than ever to further develop these safety technologies,” says Mike Hoshaw, vice president of automotive services for AAA East Central. “Moreover, the public needs to be aware that the technologies haven’t developed to the point that they should be relied on as fail safe methods to protect pedestrians.”

In partnership with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, AAA evaluated the performance of four midsize sedans equipped with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection to determine the effectiveness of these systems. Testing was conducted on a closed course using simulated pedestrian targets for the following scenarios:

— An adult crossing in front of a vehicle traveling at 20 mph and 30 mph during the day and at 25 mph at night.

— A child darting out from between two parked cars in front of a vehicle traveling at 20 mph and 30 mph.

— A vehicle turning right onto an adjacent road with an adult crossing at the same time.

Overall, the systems performed best in the instance of the adult crossing in front of a vehicle traveling at 20 mph during the day. In this case, the systems avoided a collision 40% of the time. But, at the higher speed of 30 mph, most systems failed to avoid a collision with the simulated pedestrian target. The other scenarios proved to be more challenging for the systems:

— When encountering a child darting from between two cars, with the vehicle traveling at 20 mph, a collision occurred 89% of the time.

— Immediately following a right hand turn, all of the test vehicles collided with the adult pedestrian.

— When approaching two adults standing alongside the road, with the vehicle traveling at 20 mph, a collision occurred 80% of the time.

New vehicle technology can alert drivers and assist in lessening the likelihood or severity of a crash – whether with another vehicle or even more importantly, a pedestrian. But, until these systems are proven to perform consistently – especially pedestrian detection systems – during the day and at night and in a range of situations, AAA recommends drivers always:

Be alert of their immediate surroundings and use extra caution when driving at night since this is the riskiest time for pedestrians and where the systems struggled the most.

About the Study

AAA conducted primary research in partnership with the Automotive Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center in Los Angeles, California. Track testing was conducted on closed surface streets on the grounds of the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Four test vehicles were selected (2019 Chevy Malibu, 2019 Honda Accord, 2019 Tesla Model 3 and 2019 Toyota Camry) using specific criteria and each test vehicle was outfitted using industry-standard instrumentation, sensors and cameras to capture vehicle dynamics, position data and visual notifications from the pedestrian detection system.