Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to test for pedestrian protection

Subarus at car show
CC BY 2.0 The Subaru Forester tested as "superior" in the new pedestrian tests/ Lloyd Alter

Next year we will know which vehicles are best at not killing pedestrians.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has introduced ratings that measure pedestrian protection. According to Automotive News, it's "in response to the rise in deadly crashes involving pedestrians. In 2017, there were 5,977 pedestrian fatalities, a 45 percent increase from the low point in 2009, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data."

They are not measuring physical factors, like the shapes of the front ends of cars, as they do in Europe, but new electronic technologies that detect and brake for pedestrians, and claim it will make a big difference, mitigating or preventing 65 percent of crashes and 58 percent of pedestrian deaths.

It's done with a mix of automatic braking systems, tiny cameras and "radar sensors in the front grille that continuously scan the roadway and horizon for pedestrians, and in some cases bicyclists or animals, that might cross ahead."

"We want to encourage manufacturers to include pedestrian detection capabilities as they equip more of their vehicles with automatic emergency braking systems," David Aylor, the institute's manager of active safety testing, said in a statement accompanying an IIHS evaluation of 11 crossovers with pedestrian protection systems. "We also want to arm consumers with information about these systems so they can make smart choices when shopping for a new vehicle."

Alas, none of this becomes mandatory on all vehicles. But IIHS is funded by the insurance industry and no doubt its ratings have some impact on the cost of insurance. It's not cheap technology either; on the Subaru Impreza, where the eyesight system is an option, it costs $2,300 (although it does a lot more than just pedestrian protection.) However, it is standard on Subaru's more expensive cars and will probably be standard on all of them soon.

The IIHS has tested 11 small cars, with Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Volvo XC40 coming out on top, and a BMW X1 at the bottom.

pedestrian tests© IIHS

There are different tests and different speeds, as high as 37MPH.

"The test with the small child dummy is the toughest," says David Aylor, manager of active safety testing at IIHS. "The dummy is hidden by a car and an SUV parked on the right side of the road as the test vehicle approaches, so there's no clear sight line for the cameras — or driver — until the dummy emerges in the vehicle's path."

Of course, the government will never make this mandatory because the manufacturers would complain that buyers can't afford it, just like they did with fuel efficiency standards. And I suspect that the industry will fight ratings on pickup trucks and big SUVs because they have so much inertia, claiming that pickups and SUVs are work vehicles, not the same as cars, as they have with other safety standards. It's physics; braking distance is proportional to kinetic energy, a function of mass and speed. Trucks would have to have to be able to go back in time in the small child darting out test.

DenaliNote camera under the M on the Denali/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

But we can hope that the IIHS tests every vehicle on the road, and that they adjust their insurance rates accordingly. Because we should demand that they make pickups and SUVs as safe as cars, or get rid of them.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to test for pedestrian protection
Next year we will know which vehicles are best at not killing pedestrians.

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