NTSB Calls for Standards on Automated Pedestrian Detection

The US government needs to set standards for pedestrian collision avoidance systems in vehicles and change its current rules to allow more advanced headlights that are already available in other countries, the National Transportation Safety Board announced this week.

The NTSB presented those recommendations as part of a September 25 report on pedestrian safety. About 6,000 pedestrians are killed and more than 100,000 are injured in accidents involving cars each year in the US.

Pedestrian collision avoidance is included in many automatic emergency braking systems, which automakers are scheduled to include in all new cars starting in 2022 under a voluntary program.

It’s one of several advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) that are available in a growing number of models but aren’t yet closely regulated. As new automotive technologies emerge faster than ever, slow development of federal vehicle safety standards has become a problem.

Pedestrian collision avoidance systems use cameras and radar to detect people in or near the road, apply algorithms to predict whether the vehicle is likely to hit them, and then take an action to prevent a crash — anything from alerting the driver to automatically applying the brakes.

A study this year by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that one collision avoidance system, Subaru’s EyeSight, reduced the rate of likely pedestrian-related insurance claims by 35%.

But the capabilities of these systems vary, and there are no minimum standards for their performance.

“They are effective. We think they would be more effective with standards,” said Robert Molloy, director of NTSB’s Office of Highway Safety, at a public meeting of the NTSB on Tuesday.

The board’s report recommended that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) develop test criteria that automakers can use to gauge how likely their pedestrian avoidance systems are to prevent or mitigate collisions. It also asked the agency to add pedestrian collision avoidance systems to its New Car Assessment Program, which generates the NHTSA star ratings for vehicle safety.

“We think there need to be design standards that set a bar for which those are evaluated so we can better understand what we expect that system to do for us,” NTSB Project Manager Deb Bruce said at the meeting.

The NTSB report also took issue with NHTSA’s regulation of headlights, saying their performance varied widely among different models. And the US is missing out on safer headlights because federal vehicle standards are out of date as technology advances, NTSB said.

“The safety standards for vehicle headlight systems have remained essentially unchanged for decades,” Bruce said.

Federal standards only allow low beams and high beams, while standards in other countries allow for adaptive headlights that can automatically vary their brightness depending on the situation, Bruce said. Studies show they can light the road better while still preventing glare for oncoming drivers, she said. The report recommended NHTSA change its headlight requirements to allow the adaptive lights.

Other innovations that could help save pedestrians’ lives include roadway modifications, wireless vehicle-to-everything (V2X) networks that could incorporate pedestrians’ phones, and vehicle designs that can reduce injuries to pedestrians if they are struck, NTSB said at the meeting. It recommended NHTSA set standards for pedestrian-friendly vehicle designs, which regulators in some countries already require.

— Stephen Lawson is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @sdlawsonmedia.

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