Making Cars Less Dangerous For Pedestrians

How to make cars less dangerous for pedestrians
US authorities are assessing pedestrian automatic emergency braking systems/ File: THATCHAM RESEARCH

How to make cars less dangerous for pedestrians: Five-year-old Allie Hart was riding her bike across a pedestrian crossing close to her house in Washington, DC, on September 13, 2021.

She was killed instantly when the transport van’s driver ran over her.

Jessica Hart, the mother of Allie, said, “My whole world was shattered.” She claims that despite this, nothing changed in the outside world to protect individuals like Allie.

The disconnect between life as usual and her sadness inspired Ms. Hart to take up the cause of preventing highway fatalities. She now supports safer automobiles, more alert drivers, and better-designed streets as a member of the advocacy group DC Families for Safe Streets.

She thinks that when someone decides to acquire a car, the safety of individuals outside of cars is generally considered an afterthought. “For most people, it just comes down to price, preference, and then their perceived safety [for the driver and passengers].”

There is a wealth of technology that can make vulnerable road users (VRUs) safer. VRUs include people who are walking, using a wheelchair, riding a bike, a motorcycle, or a scooter. They make up the bulk of those killed by cars worldwide.

However, new cars, safety ratings, and laws don’t necessarily have such tried-and-true safety elements.

Cost is one factor. Drivers may, in theory, be interested in additional safety measures, but would they actually purchase them if they made the car much more expensive?

That issue has been carefully considered by Alex Thompson. He serves as the organization’s principal safety engineer. Thatcham Research is a nonprofit provider of automobile risk intelligence.

Crash testing makes up a large portion of Mr. Thompson’s work.

Costs often decrease as technology advances, according to Mr. Thompson. “You don’t want the most safe vehicle to always be the most expensive vehicle,” he argues.

The switch to more flexible materials has been quite straightforward in terms of design, and it has included smoothing out portions of the bonnet where hit-and-run pedestrians are likely to smash their heads. “Anything stiff is bad for a pedestrian,” says Mr. Thompson.

In a similar vein, even though modern models include materials underneath the front bumpers to absorb part of the impact’s energy, front bumpers still need to be extremely robust.

There are still some difficulties in this area. Mr. Thompson claims that even while windscreen pillars (also known as A-pillars) are built to not collapse in the event of a collision, vehicle manufacturers still struggle to incorporate safety for VRUs.

“As a pedestrian, if you hit that, it’s probably the worst place in the vehicle where you can hit.” For cyclists, the top of the windscreen is a particularly dangerous area.

When Volvo added pedestrian airbags to its V40 in 2012, it was aiming for this area.

According to the manufacturer, “The purpose of these airbags was to help protect pedestrians in certain situations when they impact the bonnet, and the area around the windscreen wiper recess and A-pillar, where there may be a risk of serious head injuries.”

This invention has, however, taken a while to spread to other models.

Making Cars Less Dangerous For Pedestrians
Volvo has developed an airbag to help protect cyclists or pedestrians in a collision/ File: VOLVO

A pop-up bonnet is another passive safety device that detects when a person has been struck using sensors and raises the bonnet using pyrotechnic charges. This lessens the collision’s effect. According to Mr. Thompson, this attribute is influenced, for example, by the engine’s size and the amount of accessible space.

Active safety features cannot be replaced by passive safety measures. “A vehicle can be designed to be as friendly to pedestrians as feasible. But as Mr. Thompson notes, it’s preferable to avoid the crash altogether.

Automatic/autonomous emergency braking (AEB), a crucial preventive technology for active safety, is one example. When a person is in danger, this technology automatically applies the brakes when a vehicle’s cameras and sensors pick it up.

In Europe, AEB is now the norm for new vehicles. It’s not a flawless technology; it performs best at low speeds and at night or when there are erratic pedestrian movements, performance may deteriorate. But it’s getting more complex and diverse.

Lidar (light detection and ranging) and radar are two AEB sensors that are increasingly being used by automakers. Additionally, they are installing a range of AEB systems that target both other VRUs and pedestrians.

Among them are cyclists. The European New Car Assessment Programme (Euro NCAP), a testing facility, will begin including dooring in its safety evaluations as of 2023. An oncoming cyclist is doored when a car door is opened onto them. There are already technological solutions that can alert passengers in a car when a bike is close to a door or that can stop the door from being opened.

Speed has a crucial role in determining how severe the consequences are. Lower speeds reduce the likelihood and severity of an injury, according to Mike McGinn, executive director of the advocacy group America Walks. Intelligent speed assistance (ISA) systems, which alert drivers to excessive speeds or automatically lower them, are now required for all new vehicles by the EU.

The size of the cars is a significant element in addition to speed.

In the US and other countries, larger passenger vehicles like SUVs are becoming more and more popular, which is concerning for pedestrian safety.

“They’re heavier, but there’s also blunt force impact,”, according to Mr. McGinn.

Furthermore, “as the cars have gotten larger, their ability to see what is in front and behind has just gone down”.

By increasing parking or registration fees, some communities have tried to deter SUV use.

A wider range of vehicle regulations have been implemented to increase the safety of vulnerable road users.

In order to take pedestrian protection into account, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the US is thinking about changing its own New Car Assessment Programme (NCAP).

“This is the first time that vehicles in the US are potentially being rated or regulated with regard to their safety for pedestrians,” says McGinn.

The NHTSA is also considering a safety regulation for automatic emergency braking on footpaths. The government states that there is “an estimated safety potential to save hundreds of lives annually” due to this.

Commercial vehicles are already governed by more stringent rules. In the EU and Japan, for instance, big freight vehicles must have direct vision. In other words, truck drivers must be able to immediately view vulnerable road users without relying on mirrors. Additionally, reducing blind spots on lorries is now required in London.

In the end, Ms. Hart emphasizes, that road violence can cause tragedies that are avoidable and don’t simply affect pedestrians. “Everyone gets out of their car, no matter where they live.”

Nobody is protected. Therefore, one thing that needs to be done is for us to consider how we design cars, and one way to accomplish that is through regulation.

Credits: BBC

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