Some pedestrian-detecting car systems are far from perfect and still require an engaged driver behind the wheel. Picture: SUPPLIED
Some pedestrian-detecting car systems are far from perfect and still require an engaged driver behind the wheel. Picture: SUPPLIED

An alarming new car study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) reveals that some automatic emergency braking systems with pedestrian detection aren’t reliable.

The research found they perform inconsistently and proved to be completely ineffective at night — a worrying result considering that 75% of pedestrian fatalities reportedly occur after dark.

The systems were also challenged by real-world situations, like a vehicle turning right into the path of an adult. AAA’s testing found that in this simulated scenario, the systems did not react at all, colliding with the adult pedestrian target every time.

Pedestrian-detection systems that automatically apply the vehicles’s brakes have become more common in modern vehicles, but the study reveals that there’s some way to go before one can rely on artificial intelligence to prevent accidents.

“Pedestrian fatalities are on the rise, proving how important the safety impact of these systems could be when further developed,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of Automotive Engineering and Industry Relations. “But our research found that current systems are far from perfect and still require an engaged driver behind the wheel.”

On average nearly 6,000 pedestrians lose their lives in the US each year accounting for 16% of all traffic deaths, while in SA the problem is even more prevalent with pedestrians making up about one third of road deaths annually.

The AAA tested the performance of four midsize sedans (Chevy Malibu, Honda Accord, Tesla Model 3 and Toyota Camry) equipped with automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection to determine the effectiveness of these systems. Testing was conducted on a closed course using simulated pedestrian targets for the following scenarios:

An adult crossing in front of a vehicle travelling at 32km/h and 48km/h during the day and at 40km/h at night.

A child darting out from between two parked cars in front of a vehicle travelling at 32km/h and 48km/h.

THE STUDY REVEALS THERE’S SOME WAY TO GO BEFORE AI CAN BE RELIED ON TO PREVENT ACCIDENTS

A vehicle turning right onto an adjacent road with an adult crossing at the same time.

Two adults standing along the side of the road with their backs to traffic, with a vehicle approaching at 32km/h and 48km/h.

Overall, the systems performed best in the instance of the adult crossing in front of a vehicle travelling at 32km/h during the day. In this case, the systems avoided a collision 40% of the time.

But, at the higher speed of 48km/h, most systems failed to avoid a collision with the simulated pedestrian target. The other scenarios proved to be more challenging for the systems:

When encountering a child darting from between two cars, with the vehicle travelling at 32km/h, a collision occurred 89% of the time.

Immediately following a right hand turn, all of the test vehicles collided with the adult pedestrian.

When approaching two adults standing alongside the road, with the vehicle travelling at 32km/h, a collision occurred 80% of the time.

In general, the systems were ineffective in all scenarios where the vehicle was travelling at 48km/h.

At night, none of the systems detected or reacted to the adult pedestrian.

“The rise in pedestrian deaths is a major concern and carmakers are on the right path with the intent of these systems,” said Brannon. “Our goal with this testing is to identify where the gaps exist to help educate consumers and share these findings with manufacturers to work to improve their functionality.”

New vehicle technology can alert drivers and assist in lessening the likelihood or severity of a crash — whether with another vehicle or, even more importantly, a pedestrian. But, until these systems are proven to perform consistently — especially pedestrian detection systems — in a range of situations, it’s up to drivers and pedestrians to continuously be alert.

This technology should only serve as a backup and not a replacement for an engaged driver, says the AAA.

Statistics from the Road Traffic Management Corporation show that in 2017, 5,339 pedestrians died on South African roads. Over the past decade (2008-17) 48,350 pedestrians have died on the country’s roads — an incalculable number of families and lives which have been shattered.