— Pedestrian detection systems in cars have the ability to decrease pedestrian injuries and deaths, something that leads safety advocates to argue the safety systems should be an integral part of the government's New Car Assessment Program (NCAP).
Now a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) says the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) should finally make a decision whether to include pedestrian safety tests in the federal safety testing program.
According to the report, NHTSA began a pilot program in 2018 to improve pedestrian data collection and how vehicle safety features impact pedestrian safety. But GAO investigators found NHTSA does not consistently collect detailed data on the severity and types of pedestrian injuries.
NHTSA proposed pedestrian safety tests for its NCAP in 2015, but five years later NHTSA still has not decided whether it will include such tests in the program.
In agreement with safety advocates, federal safety regulators say vehicle crash avoidance technologies could lead to a decrease in pedestrian fatalities. But nine automakers interviewed by GAO representatives reported that NHTSA’s lack of communication about pedestrian safety tests creates problems for new product developments.
GAO investigators say the subject is as important now as ever because in 2018 about 17 U.S. pedestrians per day died in collisions with vehicles. The 6,300 deaths in 2018 were an increase of almost 2,000 deaths compared to the 4,400 fatalities in 2008 and the 4,280 pedestrian deaths recorded in 2010.
This was a time when new vehicles included more safety features, but it was also during a period when more pedestrian eyes were glued to their cell phones.
And while driver and pedestrian behaviors are factors, the characteristics of vehicles also come into play. Government data show the growth of SUVs contributed to the growth of pedestrian injuries and deaths, and vehicles 11 years old or older contributed to increased incidents.
In addition, data show pedestrians are in more danger if the vehicles are traveling more than 30 miles per hour compared to traveling at lower speeds.
GAO investigators collected information from 13 automakers and learned those companies offer various technologies focused on pedestrian safety.
Systems typically use cameras and radar to detect pedestrians, and 60% of model year 2019 vehicles offered in the U.S. by the 13 automakers had pedestrian crash avoidance technologies, some as standard equipment and some as optional features.
"NHTSA officials said that updating NCAP involves many actions and can take years. However, absent a final decision on whether to include pedestrian safety tests in NCAP and a documented process for making such decisions, the public lacks clarity on NHTSA’s efforts to address safety risks." - Government Accountability Office report