By on October 29, 2019

It hasn’t even been a full month since the American Automobile Association (AAA) released a study showcasing the shortcomings of advanced driving aids and another damning report has come in — this time from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). While not nearly as bleak as the AAA study, the IIHS research put several models on blast for having lackluster equipment.

The gist appears to be that the quality of pedestrian detection systems varies wildly between models, with the IIHS picking a few winners and losers. That’s important information to have, especially considering automatic braking systems will be standard equipment on all cars by 2022. 

From the IIHS:

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rated the pedestrian crash prevention systems of 16 midsize cars in the lead-up to Halloween, a holiday that consistently ranks among the deadliest days for pedestrians in the United States.

Four luxury and two nonluxury midsize cars earn a superior rating for their pedestrian crash prevention systems, while four nonluxury cars earn only a basic rating or no credit. Another six cars earn an advanced rating.

“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,” said IIHS President David Harkey.

Test were conducted under three scenarios: an adult pedestrian stepping into the street in the path of the oncoming vehicle with an unobstructed view, a child darting into the street from behind two parked cars, and an adult pedestrian near the side of the road in the travel lane, facing away from traffic. Most events were conducted at speeds similar to the AAA study, though were sometimes a bit slower or faster. For example, the two perpendicular tests are conducted at 12 and 25 miles per hour, and the test simulating a pedestrian walking in a parallel path to the vehicle happens at 25 and 37 mph. The AAA report had those events occurring at different speeds — usually 20 and 30 mph.

The rankings are slightly confusing, too. Basically, no credit means the car repeatedly struck the test dummies at speed. Basic indicates fewer collar-tugging incidents, with things improving from there. But the metrics are anything but clearcut and appear to be weighted against each other more than anything else. At no point does the outlet clarify what constitutes an advanced or superior ranking — they’re just “better.”


Of the vehicle’s tested, the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima earned no credit because they failed to slow significantly in multiple scenarios. Meanwhile, the Audi A4, BMW 3 series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Nissan Maxima, Subaru Outback and Volvo S60 had systems earning superior ratings. According to the IIHS, they “avoided collisions or slowed substantially in track tests.”

While we don’t want to undermine the legitimacy of this study, it should be said that the IIHS is looking at both safety and what this new tech means for insurers. The report even mentions how certain systems (like Subaru’s EyeSight) “cut the rate of likely pedestrian-related insurance claims by 35 percent, compared with the same vehicles without the system.” It doesn’t make the results truly specious, but does help establish the angle IIHS typically takes in regard to new safety systems.

We also wonder how much extensive testing was actually done, as the Chevy Malibu was also included in the AAA study. There, it performed similarly poorly. But did manage to detect a child-sized obstacle every other car missed… before hitting it. However the IIHS issued it a basic rating in pedestrian detection, despite it outright admitting the Chevy totally failed some of the tests.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also failed to test any of the vehicles at night, something AAA proved can instantly make pedestrian detection systems irrelevant. But the IIHS claimed “systems might not perform as well during the nighttime hours that account for most pedestrian fatalities, though if paired with good-performing headlights, they should be able to detect pedestrians.”

If you’re looking for harder data, we recommend sticking with the AAA report. But that doesn’t make the other study worthless. IIHS managed to put a few more cars and some crossovers through the wringer, showing that there’s a big difference between how effective advanced driving aids can be.

We wouldn’t put our complete faith in any of them right now.

[Images: IIHS]

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18 Comments on “More Evidence Pedestrian Detection Systems Have Some Problems...”

  • avatar

    The Tesla Model 3 not getting a superior rating indicates where they are at in their development of a fully autonomous vehicle.

  • avatar

    Unless it gets points for autonomously killing people.

  • avatar

    Judging from the pictures, the tests were done on dry pavement. I’m guessing the performance is substantially worse when wet.

  • avatar

    OMG that last picture! Might have to change my avatar.

    Clearly these systems aren’t ready for prime time, the Fed should back off until the tech is sorted out. This isn’t a no-brainer like seatbelts.

  • avatar

    The biggest safety feature to protect pedestrians and bicyclists would be to turn off cell phones used by the driver. I am being serious, the use of cell phones, even if in “map” or “game” mode is horrible. On my daily drive, I always see drivers staring at their laps rather than at the road. The long term solution may be better pedestrian recognition systems, but in the short run having blue tooth systems recognize the driver’s phone and turn it OFF, except for some minimal usage would help.

    • 0 avatar

      How about turning off the cell phones used by pedestrians? I can’t even say how many oblivious idiots I have seen walk into traffic, headphones on and staring at the screen in their hand. Saw one near Darwin award candidate nearly get creamed by a bus in NYC that way.

      Ultimately, I think I was taught by my parents to “look both ways” before stepping out into the street when I was about 5.

      • 0 avatar

        they look both ways too: up and down on their FB feed.

      • 0 avatar

        100%. If a pedestrian gets struck outside of a valid crosswalk, it should be on them. I have had so many of the walking phone zombies jump out from behind large cans and box trucks. I used to be a city person, but I’m getting to the point where I can’t stand some of the people that live there, and want to stay away as much as possible.

    • 0 avatar

      How about greater insurance premiums for vehicles equipped with such safety systems? Or even better: higher premiums for vehicles whose owners have smartphones. But that would make too much sense.

  • avatar

    Autonomous vehicles equal Deathrace 2000. What a morbid little film.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    “certain systems (like Subaru’s EyeSight) “cut the rate of likely pedestrian-related insurance claims by 35 percent, compared with the same vehicles without the system.””
    So, but this logic, if I buy one of these I will hit 35% less pedestrians.
    Unfortunately, 35% of zero is still zero. It would appear that my ability to avoid hitting pedestrians is greater than these systems’.

  • avatar

    insert Mustang joke here

  • avatar

    AI: “That’s a dummy. I don’t have to avoid that.”

  • avatar

    I know I shouldn’t be laughing when I watch some of the footage, but I can’t help myself. Of course it wouldn’t be funny at all if it was a real person, but the little robotic legs plus the idea of a killer car.

    ::I watched too many bad movies::

  • avatar

    These days there are people who are completely oblivious to the world around them and assume that it is everyone else’s job to look out for them. Worse, there are pedestrians who think they’re asserting themselves by being inconsiderate of drivers. This may be a victimless technology, and everyone with a memorable interaction with it will probably be the sort of person who thinks computers are better drivers than people.

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