Building better-marked crosswalks and intersections, improving sidewalks, and adding traffic-light countdown timers and clear pedestrian right-of-ways all make a significant difference in safety on foot. But these solutions come with their own significant price tags and are subject to the agreement of state and local governments, all with their own different (and today, cost-cutting) priorities.
Yet, according to some new study information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), with a little extra technology in vehicles, thousands of pedestrian fatalities might be avoided. Researchers estimate 2,932 fatalities—roughly three quarters of the current annual total—and 39,000 injuries could be prevented each year with pedestrian detection systems, while 879 fatal crashes and as many as 1.2 million crashes (some of them involving pedestrians) could be avoided with forward collision warning systems.
Forward collision warning is now offered on 19 different vehicles for 2011, according to the IIHS. And so far, the most full-featured, active pedestrian system is the so-called Pedestrian Detection with Full Auto Brake option on the 2011 Volvo S60 sedan. As we've experienced in several test situations, the feature will actually brake you to a complete stop if you're rolling at up to 22 mph, and at lower speeds lessen the speed (and force) of impact.
Such systems, if they were to be deployed industry-wide, could make quite a difference. Researchers looked at thousands of pedestrian fatalities from 2005 to 2009 and found that in 95 percent of accidents, people were struck by the front of the vehicle, and more than 75 percent were crossing traffic, rather than walking in parallel with traffic. And in most of those cases, no braking was reported. And in 62 percent of the fatalities and more than half of the injuries, drivers were simply going straight and had no other visual obstructions.
A driver hitting a pedestrian who's walking or running in line with traffic is the second most common type of fatal crash, accounting for 12 percent of pedestrian deaths. Turning into a pedestrian crosswalk is less common.
Automakers with similar technology under development or offered in other markets include Subaru (EyeSight), Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW.
One of the inhibitive issues here, of course, is the cost of the technology. In luxury cars, there's some overlap with cameras and sonar systems for smart cruise control and/or parking aids. But in lower-cost vehicles, it could cost at minimum hundreds of dollars per vehicle.
Do you think such systems should be mandated for cars? How should we consider cost versus the lives saved?