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.
Annual pedestrian fatalities have increased 53 percent since reaching a low point in 2009. More than 6,000 pedestrians were killed in 2018. During 2013-17, the two deadliest days of the year for pedestrians on average were Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 (or after midnight on Halloween).
Technology could be part of the solution. Many manufacturers are upgrading the automatic emergency braking systems they have agreed to install by 2022 to recognize pedestrians, in addition to other vehicles. These systems scan the path ahead and automatically apply the brakes to avoid hitting people in the roadway.
About two-thirds of the vehicles that IIHS rates included pedestrian detection in 2019, in many cases as standard equipment. Among the vehicles evaluated in this current round of testing, pedestrian crash prevention is standard on all six luxury cars and six out of 10 nonluxury cars.
When they work correctly, such systems can help avert tragedy. A 2017 Highway Loss Data Institute analysis, for instance, found that Subaru's EyeSight system with pedestrian detection cut the rate of likely pedestrian-related insurance claims by 35 percent, compared with the same vehicles without the system.
Most pedestrian crash prevention systems use one or two forward-facing cameras mounted near the rearview mirror and/or radar sensors in the front grille to scan the roadway for pedestrians poised to enter the vehicle's path. Algorithms determine if the detected objects are pedestrians. In some cases, they can recognize bicyclists or animals too. If the software calculates that a collision is imminent, it alerts the driver and applies the brakes faster than a human can react.
The performance of the systems varies widely, the latest IIHS ratings show.The Audi A4, BMW 3 series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Nissan Maxima, Subaru Outback and Volvo S60 have systems that earn superior ratings. They avoided collisions or slowed substantially in track tests.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima earn no credit because they failed to slow significantly in multiple scenarios.
The C-Class, 3 series and Chevrolet Malibu each offer two different pedestrian crash prevention systems. On the C-Class, the optional system earns a superior rating, while the standard one earns a basic rating. On the 3 series, the standard system surprisingly earns a higher rating of superior, while the more costly optional system earns an advanced rating. Both of the Malibu's optional systems — a camera only and a camera plus radar — earn basic ratings.
About the tests IIHS launched its pedestrian ratings in February. In the first round of testing, four out of 11 small SUVs earned a superior rating, while another five earned an advanced rating.
IIHS tests performance in 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. 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 is conducted at 25 and 37 mph.
In each of these tests, the system has 1 or 2 seconds to stop the car to avoid hitting the pedestrian dummy.
Each test is performed in full daylight on dry pavement. 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.
Pedestrian crash prevention ratings for midsize cars: SUPERIOR 2019 Audi A4 2019-20 BMW 3 series 2020 Subaru Outback 2019-20 Mercedes-Benz C-Class* 2019-20 Nissan Maxima (optional for 2019/standard for 2020) 2019 Volvo S60
ADVANCED 2019-20 BMW 3 series* 2019-20 Honda Accord 2019-20 Lexus ES 350 2019 Mazda 6 2019-20 Nissan Altima 2019-20 Tesla Model 3 2019-20 Toyota Camry
BASIC 2019-20 Chevrolet Malibu* 2019-20 Mercedes-Benz C-Class
NO CREDIT 2019-20 Ford Fusion 2019 Hyundai Sonata* 2019 Kia Optima*