VW Says Radar System Detects Pedestrians at 40 mph or Less

The system, which applies the brakes or sends out an alert to warn a driver when a pedestrian is crossing the street, could be the difference between an uneventful day and a deadly collision.

by Eric D. Lawrence, Detroit Free Press / August 6, 2019

(TNS) — Volkswagen says the radar that makes its pedestrian monitoring system possible works in daylight or darkness, sweeping an area ahead to find the specific "signature" of a person about to cross a vehicle's path.

It will work as long as the vehicle equipped with the system is traveling at 40 mph or slower.

The downside is that most pedestrians who die in crashes in the United States are struck by vehicles on roads where the speed limit is higher than that.

In fact, almost 60% of the 27,240 pedestrians killed in crashes from 2013 to 2017, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, involved vehicles where the speed limit was 40 mph and above. That's 16,184 people killed on or along U.S. roads during that stretch, an example of the ongoing public safety crisis of pedestrian deaths. A Detroit Free Press/USA TODAY investigation last year found the SUV revolution to be a key factor.

This isn't to pick on VW, which did not respond to a request for comment. The company's system, which applies the brakes or sends out an alert to warn a driver when a vulnerable road user is crossing the street, certainly could be the difference between an uneventful day and a horrible day for all involved. It could even save someone's life.

“I think a lot of this is baby steps, and it’s a good first step for sure," explained David Aylor, manager of active safety testing for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Aylor's group has been testing pedestrian crash avoidance systems. In a round of test results involving small SUVs tested at less than 40 mph released in February, IIHS gave superior or advanced ratings to nine of 11 such systems. But in a demonstration of the limitations of some of the technology, the 2018-19 BMW X1, equipped with so-called Daytime Pedestrian Detection, sent crash test dummies "airborne" in the tests.

Aylor said other types of safety systems had limitations in their early years, too.

“We saw similar things early on with normal front crash prevention, that they sort of started originally working at lower speeds." Aylor said. "Some of that is the limitations of system hardware, and so I think manufacturers will expand that as we get more experience."

Had a pedestrian detection system like VW's been in place for all vehicles in the United States from 2013-17, it's possible a substantial number of the thousands of pedestrians killed in lower speed limit areas could have been spared. It's not known precisely how many might have lived, just as it's unclear based on the NHTSA data how fast the vehicles were actually traveling.

Speed is considered the critical piece in determining whether a pedestrian lives or dies in a crash. When the striking vehicle is traveling 20 mph, 5% of pedestrians die. When the vehicle is traveling at 40 mph, 85% of pedestrians die, according to researchers.

©2019 the Detroit Free Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs