Some pedestrian detection systems are ineffective at avoiding crashes, IIHS finds

October 29, 2019

Pedestrian detection systems on six mid-size cars earned top honors from the IIHS on Tuesday for recognizing adults and children in roadways and significantly slowing or stopping altogether to avoid injurious or fatal crashes. Three other mid-size sedans didn't earn a rating because they failed to slow, or didn't slow at all, in certain tests. 

The results were released by the agency ahead of Halloween, which the insurance industry-funded agency said is one of the deadliest days for pedestrian-involved crashes in the U.S. The IIHS report comes on the heels of a similar test by the AAA, which found that pedestrian safety systems equipped on some sedans could not be relied upon to prevent crashes at night in real-world situations.

All tests were conducted during the day, and the IIHS noted that those systems may not perform similarly at night, though they should when paired with good-performing headlights.

The 2019 Audi A4, 2019-2020 BMW 3-Series, 2020 Subaru Outback, 2019-2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class, 2019-2020 Nissan Maxima, and 2019 Volvo S60 all earned top marks by the IIHS for their pedestrian detection sensors and cameras included with their automatic emergency braking systems. The systems all earned "Superior" ratings from the IIHS, which according to the agency meant that they "reduced their speed dramatically in all six tests and in most cases avoided hitting the pedestrian dummy, eliminating or greatly reducing the risk of severe injury."

All but the C-Class and Maxima included the "Superior"-rated pedestrian safety systems as standard equipment for 2019 model-year vehicles, and Nissan will make the equipment standard on the 2020 Maxima. The IIHS noted that the Maxima avoided hitting the pedestrians in all tests performed.

IIHS tests pedestrian detection in 2020 Nissan Maxima

IIHS tests pedestrian detection in 2020 Nissan Maxima

“Pedestrians are the most vulnerable road users, so it’s encouraging that pedestrian crash prevention systems are standard equipment in 12 out of the 16 midsize cars we tested, including five out of six superior-rated systems,”  IIHS President David Harkey said in a statement. 

“Car makers often roll out these kinds of advanced systems in more expensive luxury lines or as expensive options, so the superior performance of the standard systems on the more mainstream Maxima and Outback is noteworthy,” he added.

In its tests, the IIHS simulated an adult or a child walking into the road in a path perpendicular to the direction of the car while the vehicle traveled at 12 and 25 mph, similar to a person crossing the road. In the fifth and sixth tests, the IIHS simulated an adult in the roadway traveling parallel to the direction of the vehicle traveling 25 and 37 mph, such as a pedestrian walking in the direction of traffic in the road. 

The pedestrian safety systems in the 2019-202 Honda Accord, 2019-2020 Lexus ES 350, 2019 Mazda 6, 2019-2020 Nissan Altima, 2019-2020 Tesla Model 3, and 2019-2020 Toyota Camry earned "Advanced" ratings, one step down from "Superior." To earn an "Advanced" rating, the car must slow significantly, although somewhat less consistently as "Superior"-rated vehicles. While the standard system on the 2019-2020 BMW 3-Series earned a "Superior" rating, the optional spend-up system on the 3-Series only earned an "Advanced" rating.

Both the standard and optional systems on the 2019-2020 Chevy Malibu earned a "Basic" rating. The standard system included on the 2019-2020 Mercedes-Benz C-Class also earned a "Basic" nod. Vehicles rated as "Basic" failed to slow in one or more tests, and vehicles that didn't receive credit failed to slow at all. The systems included on the 2019-2020 Ford Fusion, 2019 Hyundai Sonata, and 2019 Kia Optima didn't receive credit at all on the tests.

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