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Pedestrian detection systems ineffective at preventing pedestrian deaths

November 19, 2019

Across the United States, overall traffic fatalities have slowly been on the decline over the past few years. In 2018 alone, the total number of road deaths fell by 2.4 percent.

Pedestrian fatalities, on the other hand, have been on the rise — totaling 6,283 deaths in 2018.

Could this stark imbalance be linked to a roadway infrastructure that favors cars? Could it be that fewer people are driving and more people are getting around by walking? Perhaps an increase in distracted driving? The cause of pedestrian deaths is likely a combination of these factors.

What we do know is: human error causes fatal pedestrian accidents. Some experts have turned to technology in hopes of finding a solution. We already see autonomous and semi-autonomous safety features in some new vehicles.

How effective is emerging technology at preventing pedestrian deaths?

One feature, in particular, is pedestrian automatic emergency braking (PAEB). It’s designed to classify and detect pedestrians crossing the roadway and automatically apply the brakes. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that it’s intended to prevent collisions with pedestrians in the following scenarios:

  • Frontal collisions with pedestrians
  • Turning right at an intersection
  • Turning left at an intersection
  • Approaching a pedestrian who is walking on the side of the road

PAEB has been the subject of scrutiny after a self-driving Uber struck and killed an Arizona pedestrian in March of 2018. According to the National Traffic Safety Board, the Uber didn’t have “the capability to classify an object as a pedestrian unless the object was near a crosswalk.”

At the time of the crash, the Uber operator was streaming a television show rather than being prepared to take over the car’s functions.

AAA researchers find flaws in PAEB technology

Recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety research on the effectiveness of PAEB technology explains why the self-driving Uber failed to prevent the pedestrian death in Arizona. The technology simply doesn’t work when it’s needed.

After performing a series of tests with crash dummies, AAA unveiled the following results:

  • Adult pedestrian crossing the roadway during the daytime: At 20 mph, the PAEB system was found to be only 40 percent effective at preventing a pedestrian crash. At 30 mph, however, the PAEB technology was deemed ineffective.
  • Child pedestrian darting out into the road from between two cars: At 20 mph, PAEB was found to be ineffective 89 percent of the time.
  • While turning right at an intersection: PAEB was found to be completely ineffective.
  • Two adult pedestrians walking on the side of the road facing away from traffic: At 20 mph, PAEB was found to be 80 percent ineffective.
  • Nighttime driving: At night, PAEB was found to be ineffective 100 percent of the time.

The AAA study concludes that PAEB technology needs more research and development before it can be fully rolled out. Even then, it should only serve as a backup, not something drivers should rely on. PAEB and other semi-autonomous technology is not a replacement for driver responsibility. Even if these features are found to be accurate 100 percent of the time, they are not foolproof and can experience occasional malfunctions.

No matter what, drivers should always be engaged behind the wheel. If someone who was distracted behind the wheel caused your crash, you have the right to take legal action. The experienced car accident attorneys at Coplan + Crane represent injured motorists in Chicago and the surrounding area. If you were hurt in a crash, don’t hesitate to contact us and schedule a free case evaluation with our legal team.