Only One Automaker's SUV Will Stop For Pedestrians At Night

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The IIHS has found that a disturbing amount of modern vehicles can't detect pedestrians in time when the sun goes down.

Last year, in the United States alone, approximately 7,300 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents. Despite the advent of driver assist systems like autonomous emergency braking (AEB), too many people are dying on American roads. Yes, AEB with pedestrian detection has certainly made a difference, but according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the technology isn't foolproof.

A previous study conducted by the IIHS found these systems to be ineffective at night, which is when three-quarters of these fatalities occur. Subsequent to that initial report, the agency has now introduced a nighttime test of these systems to its evaluation regimen. But the first round of official testing has yielded scary results, as only one vehicle could stop in time in all tests at all speeds.

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2021-2023 Toyota Camry Rear Perspective Driving

IIHS president David Harkey said the results didn't come as a surprise: "As we expected, most of these pedestrian AEB systems don't work very well in the dark. But it's clear automakers can rise to this new challenge, as Ford, Nissan, and Toyota each earn superior ratings for some models."

Only four vehicles achieved the institute's top rating of "superior." The Toyota Camry and Highlander, Ford Mustang Mach-E, and the Nissan Pathfinder performed best. Interestingly, the Pathfinder was the only model to avoid the dummy pedestrian in all tests.

To assess the systems in real-life conditions, the IIHS puts the vehicles through two common crash scenarios - an adult crossing the road and an adult walking along the edge of the road. To make things trickier, lighting at the test track is set below 1 lux - no greater than the light afforded by a full moon - for the duration of the evaluation.

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2020-2022 Toyota Highlander Front Angle View
2021-2022 Ford Mustang Mach-E Rear View Driving

In the crossing test, vehicles drive down a designated stretch of road at 12 mph and 25 mph. The second test is conducted at higher speeds; 25 mph and 37 mph. Each vehicle does five test runs, all of which are scored by the average speed reduction. Trials are also conducted with the headlights on low and high beams, with adjustments made to the scoring if the vehicle is equipped with high beam assist.

According to David Aylor, architect of this new test, "the idea is to weight the score according to the beam setting that's most likely to be switched on at the time of the potential crash."

2022-2023 Toyota Tacoma Front Angle View Toyota 2019-2022 Honda Pilot In Motion Honda
2022-2023 Toyota Tacoma Front Angle View
2019-2022 Honda Pilot In Motion

A total of 23 vehicles were tested, with the aforementioned quartet being the only cars to receive a "Superior" rating, while a further seven received an "Advanced" rating. This is a stark decline compared to daytime testing, where 19 of these vehicles are all rated "Superior" or higher. In the night-time test, eight fell into the "basic" category, and four vehicles received no credit at all.

The Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Pilot, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Tacoma (Crew Cab) were the worst offenders, as the systems were deemed entirely ineffectual as they "did not slow at all or barely reduced their speed before hitting the dummy in multiple test scenarios with both their low and high beams."

2019-2023 Chevrolet Malibu Front Angle View Chevrolet 2019-2022 Nissan Altima Rear Angle View Nissan
2019-2023 Chevrolet Malibu Front Angle View
2019-2022 Nissan Altima Rear Angle View

More worryingly, the Highlander and the Pathfinder are the only SUVs to receive the highest rating. The rest of the crossovers, SUVs, and pickup trucks fall into lesser categories, which is a concern. "It's discouraging that so many midsize SUVs and small pickups perform poorly in the nighttime test because research suggests these types of vehicles are more dangerous to pedestrians," added Harkey.

In March, an IIHS study found SUVs and pickup trucks place pedestrians in greater danger. It's not just the added size and mass that puts them at risk. The larger blind spots make it trickier for drivers to see impending obstacles. Hopefully, this motivates manufacturers to return to the drawing board and create more comprehensive systems. However, as drivers, we also need to play our part and pay attention when on the road.

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