Pedestrian fatalities in Florida and around the country have increased by more than 50% since 2009 and now account for about one in five road deaths. Road safety advocacy groups like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have urged auto makers to protect pedestrians by installing automatic emergency braking systems in their vehicles, and the industry has responded. These systems are now available on about 90% of the passenger vehicles sold in the United States, but studies conducted by the IIHS reveal that they do not work very well in the dark.
AEB systems use cameras, radar or LiDAR to detect obstacles in the roadway and then apply vehicle brakes far more quickly than a human being could. IIHS researchers conducted a series of tests and found that AEB systems work well in daylight conditions and reduce pedestrian injuries by 30%. However, small SUVs equipped with and without the technology performed equally well when the same tests were conducted at night.
Real world data
IIHS researchers then checked police records to see if the systems performed any better in real world driving situations. After studying almost 650 auto/pedestrian accident reports that included information about lighting conditions, they found that AEB systems worked well in daylight and artificial lighting but did not protect pedestrians in unlit areas at night. This is particularly worrying because most of the pedestrians killed on the nation’s roads each year are struck by vehicles at night.
Adjusting to new technology
The introduction of new technology often ushers in a period of adjustment. Autonomous safety systems and self-driving cars have the potential to virtually eliminate road deaths, but the technology currently available augments rather than replaces driver vigilance. AEB systems will likely become far more effective in the years ahead and could one day work flawlessly. Until that day arrives, drivers should remain alert at all times.