AAA research shows pedestrian detection systems inconsistent

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New research from the AAA (American Automobile Association) reveals that automatic emergency braking systems with pedestrian detection perform inconsistently, and proved to be completely ineffective at night, when most pedestrian/vehicle fatalities occur. 

On average in the USA, 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 75% of those fatalities occurring after dark. While time of day and location are contributing factors to pedestrian deaths, vehicle speed also plays a major role. Previous research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that pedestrians are at greater risk for severe injury or death the faster a car is traveling at the time of impact. For example, a pedestrian hit by a vehicle traveling at 20mph (32km/h) has an 18% risk of severe injury or death, whereas at 30mph (48km/h) the risk more than doubles to 47%. 

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 (AEB) with pedestrian detection (PD) 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 20mph and 30mph during the day and at 25mph at night; 
  • A child darting out from between two parked cars in front of a vehicle traveling at 20mph and 30mph; 
  • A vehicle turning right onto an adjacent road with an adult crossing at the same time; 
  • Two adults standing alongside the road with their backs to traffic, with a vehicle approaching at 20mph and 30mph. 

Overall, the systems performed best in the instance of the adult crossing in front of a vehicle traveling at 20mph during the day. In this case, the systems avoided a collision 40% of the time. But, at the higher speed of 30mph, 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 20mph, a collision occurred 89% of the time; 
  • Immediately following a right-hand turn, all the test vehicles collided with the adult pedestrian; 
  • When approaching two adults standing alongside the road, with the vehicle traveling at 20mph, a collision occurred 80% of the time; 
  • In general, the systems were ineffective in all scenarios where the vehicle was traveling at 30mph; 
  • At night, none of the systems detected or reacted to the adult pedestrian. 


“Pedestrian fatalities are on the rise, proving how important the safety impact of these systems could be when further developed,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering and industry relations. “But, our research found that current systems are far from perfect and still require an engaged driver behind the wheel. The rise in pedestrian deaths is a major concern and automakers are on the right path with the intent of these systems. Our goal with this testing is to identify where the gaps exist to help educate consumers and share these findings with manufacturers to work to improve their functionality.”

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Adam joined the company in 1994, and has been News Editor of TTT since 2009. In his other role as Circulation Manager, he helped create the original Traffic Technology International distribution list 23 years ago, and has been working on it ever since. Outside of work, he is a keen fisherman, runs a drumming band, and plays an ancient version of cricket.

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