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Anyone who's driven down a busy street knows how unpredictable pedestrians can be. One moment, someone is walking on the sidewalk next to your car. Then, they're suddenly running out to cross the street when there's a break in traffic. When neither drivers nor pedestrians are paying attention, it can lead to physical injury or even death.

Over 6,000 pedestrians die in traffic-related accidents each year. The number only continues to grow annually, making the need for pedestrian detection systems a serious one. While existing systems can benefit from improvements, they can still be a valuable tool to make the roads safer for everyone.

Learn more about pedestrian detection systems below to see how they can assist drivers.

The Basics of Pedestrian Detection Systems

If you've been driving for some time, you've likely experienced a pedestrian walking out in front of your car or getting too close to the road. Otherwise, you've probably heard disgruntled friends or family members talk about their own experiences with pedestrians on the road.

It can be challenging to notice pedestrians, especially on a busy highway or at an intersection, particularly when you're distracted. Sometimes, they can seem to show up out of nowhere. Aftermarket pedestrian detection systems can help create a solution, making the experience safer for drivers and pedestrians alike.

A pedestrian detection system is an alert or automatic braking system that detects human movement. It either sounds an alarm or applies the breaks when the driver fails to stop for the individual. These systems will alert drivers when pedestrians are within a specific speed range, usually about 25 miles per hour.

These systems won't steer for you. If the system only alerts you rather than applying the brakes, you'll need to pay attention to your dashboard to ensure that you can stop in time to prevent an accident.

How Pedestrian Detection Systems Work

These avoidance systems can give you extra peace of mind while driving down the road, but how do they work? There are two kinds of pedestrian avoidance systems — some display alerts when motion is detected so you know when to brake, and others brake for you when you don't respond in time.

Specifically, the pedestrian braking system uses various tools, including sensors, cameras and radars. These tools monitor the area around a vehicle, looking for any sign of human movement to give you adequate time to brake.

The sensors use light wavelengths to measure how long it takes for the wavelength to bounce off an object and return to your vehicle. The radars work the same way but use radio wavelengths instead. A system's cameras look for specific objects in front of the vehicle, and some can look for pedestrians as they cross in front of the car.

In some vehicles, the detection system works with the existing emergency braking system. Once the detection system identifies a pedestrian or object in the vehicle's path, it applies the emergency brakes, allowing you to stop or reduce your speed enough to make the impact survivable. While high-speed emergency braking is less standard in vehicles and usually can't stop in time to prevent impact, it can help save the pedestrian's life.

How Reliable Are Pedestrian Detection Systems?

While pedestrian detection systems can help you spot people you may not have noticed, they aren't reliable in every instance. These systems are still relatively new technology — only 56% of 2018 model vehicles are equipped with a pedestrian detection system.

The best way to prevent an accident with a pedestrian is to remain alert and attentive while driving. It's best not to use pedestrian detection systems to replace quality driving. In other words, drivers should only rely on their vehicles' pedestrian detecting systems when absolutely necessary — driving attentively and safely is the best way to keep everyone on the road protected.

Here are several tips to prevent a potentially deadly collision:

  • Stay alert while driving: Keep your eyes on the road and your surroundings at all times. Try to limit your distractions — limiting distractions means putting your phone away when you're behind the wheel, waiting to eat until you're home or at a rest stop or turning the music down to a reasonable level. It's also a good idea to avoid driving when you're tired, as driving drowsy can reduce your reaction time and make you less alert.
  • Read your owner's manual: Before you drive, equip yourself with the knowledge of your vehicle's safety systems, which you can find in your owner's manual. Ask your car dealer how the systems work, including what triggers them and what the alerts sound or look like. This knowledge will make it easier to drive safely and take advantage of the technology in your vehicle.
  • Use extra caution in certain scenarios: Specific circumstances are more dangerous for pedestrians and drivers than others. Because pedestrian detection systems aren't as effective at night, you should be more cautious when driving after the sun goes down. Pay special attention to areas where pedestrians frequently cross the road, such as busy city intersections and between traffic standstills.
  • Stay alert as a pedestrian: While pedestrians have the right of way in many circumstances, they don't in all of them. Therefore, pedestrians need to pay just as much attention to the road as drivers do to prevent an accident. People should use sidewalks and cross at designated intersections whenever possible. Always look both ways when crossing the road to ensure you don't encounter a distracted driver.

While pedestrian detection systems can be an excellent backup to prevent accidents, they shouldn't replace attentive driving. Instead, it's best to practice other safety measures while using the pedestrian detection system as a backup tool.

AAA's Research

AAA conducted a study on the reliability and effectiveness of pedestrian detection systems and found some interesting results. The key findings of the study show that vehicles with pedestrian avoidance systems didn't work as expected when they were needed the most.

In the study, we evaluated the effectiveness of automatic braking systems in four midsize sedans. Each test was supervised in a closed course with fake pedestrian obstacles. The study evaluated various scenarios, including:

  • An adult crossing the street at the same time a vehicle makes a right turn onto the street
  • An adult crossing the street as a car approaches at 20 to 30 miles per hour during the day
  • A child running into the road from between two parked cars in front of a vehicle going 20 to 30 miles per hour
  • Two adults with their backs to traffic and a car approaching at 20 to 30 miles per hour

While the pedestrian detection system worked best when an adult was crossing a street and a vehicle approached at 20 miles per hour, the system only successfully stopped the car and prevented an accident 40% of the time. It became more challenging for the system to avoid an accident at 30 miles per hour, which is a more dangerous speed for pedestrians.

In the other instances, the pedestrian detection and automatic braking system encountered further challenges. In the scenario where a vehicle made the right turn, the car made an impact with the pedestrian every time. During the scenario with the child, a collision occurred 89% of the time. An accident occurred 80% of the time when two adults were standing with their backs to traffic. The systems were ineffective in any scenarios where the vehicle was traveling over 30 miles per hour.

This study helps identify gaps in current technology, allowing for the development of more responsive pedestrian detection systems. Until that technology exists, it's best to practice safe and attentive driving and only use said systems as one of many tools to protect yourself and pedestrians on the road.

Not Effective at Night

During the same AAA study, we tested to see how effective pedestrian detection systems worked at night. About 75% of pedestrian deaths occur at night, so the systems' effectiveness after dark is a natural concern for consumers.

In all of the tested scenarios, the pedestrian detection systems were ineffective at night and couldn't brake or prevent a collision. The most likely reason for that is the sensors, cameras and radars can't work as efficiently at night. Even when they can pick up some movement, they won't perceive it as pedestrian movement and apply the brakes.

There are a few things you can do to help keep pedestrians safe at night and reduce your risk of an accident, including:

  • Drive with extra caution at night: Since pedestrian detection systems aren't effective in the dark, you should be extra cautious when driving at night. Keep an eye out for pedestrians walking on the side of the road and closely follow all traffic lights and signs. Because nighttime is the riskiest time for pedestrians, you should exercise the most caution when driving in the dark.
  • Utilize your headlights: If you're driving down a dark or dimly lit road and there are no cars in front of you or headed in your direction, you should be utilizing your car's high beams. The high beams can improve how much you can see by 28%, allowing you to see when a pedestrian steps out into the road sooner and at higher speeds. When using your high beams, it's also easier to see traffic signs or other obstructions.
  • Keep to the speed limit: It can be more challenging to see objects as we drive past them at night, making our brains perceive that we're traveling slower, even though we may be speeding. Some people may speed up, which creates a dangerous situation for both the driver and potential pedestrians. If you're driving at night, keep a close eye on your speedometer or use cruise control to ensure you're driving at the speed limit.
  • Drive sober and well-rested: Driving under the influence or when tired can put you and others at risk — you won't react as quickly when someone walks into the road, and you won't be able to stay focused. Only drive when you're sober and well-rested. If you've been drinking, using substances or are too tired to drive, call a friend or family member to pick you up or see if you can stay where you are until you've gotten some rest.

By following the tips above to drive responsibly, you can increase your chances of staying safe on the road and protecting any pedestrians you may come across on your travels.

Should You Buy a Car With a Pedestrian Detection System?

Just because pedestrian detection technology isn't effective 100% of the time doesn't mean you shouldn't invest in a vehicle with the technology. As time passes, more models are equipped with the technology and it's continually improving. It can be a helpful tool to help you notice pedestrians or brake when you're unable.

Still, keeping a careful eye on the road is essential to keep yourself and pedestrians safe. A pedestrian detection system shouldn't be a crucial factor you're looking for when purchasing a new car. Other safety features, such as safety-belt features, antilock brakes and adaptive headlights, are often even more helpful.

Ultimately, be sure to drive like you don't have the technology, so hopefully, you'll never need it.

Join AAA Today for Comprehensive Roadside Services

AAA can provide you with additional peace of mind as you travel down the road. While a pedestrian detection system can be a valuable tool to prevent pedestrian traffic accidents, AAA goes above and beyond to reassure you that you're safe while you're on the road. We offer roadside assistance, lockout services, towing and more to all AAA members.

We have three types of memberships, including basic, plus and premier. As you go up in tiers, you benefit more from our services. Our premier members will even cover auto theft rewards up to $1,500.

We also do our best to help you save on costs so you can find a plan that fits your budget. Your membership will also travel with you, so even when you're in a friend or family member's vehicle, AAA will still cover you.

Contact us to learn more about our benefits and become a AAA member today. 


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