Whether it results in an injury or a fatality, when a fleet driver strikes a pedestrian it can mean a significant financial cost to the company as well as damage to the organization’s reputation. A new proposed regulation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) aims to dramatically reduce crashes associated with pedestrians and rear-end crashes.
Specifically, NHTSA’s rule would require automatic emergency braking (AEB) and pedestrian AEB systems on all passenger cars and light trucks —including fleet vehicles.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) sees the proposal as an important step for road safety. Today, nearly every new vehicle sold includes AEB as standard equipment. However, the goal of the proposed rule is to ensure better technology and spread it throughout the vehicle fleet as quickly as possible.
For example, under the NHTSA mandate, the AEB systems on all new passenger vehicles would have to be capable of braking to fully avoid a crash with another vehicle at up to 50 mph. Vehicles would also need to be able to stop for pedestrians at speeds up to 37 mph, and pedestrian detection would be required to work in dark conditions.
Previous studies from IIHS have demonstrated the benefits of pedestrian AEB. However, while many current systems have been shown to cut pedestrian crashes in daylight or on well-lit roads, they had little to no effect at night on unlit roads. Yet more than a third of fatal pedestrian crashes occur under those conditions.
If its new rule is finalized, NHTSA projects it would save at least 360 lives a year and reduce injuries by at least 24,000 annually.
Pedestrian Fatalities Spike, Bigger Vehicles a Factor
Pedestrian crash deaths have increased nearly every year since hitting a low point in 2009, rising 59% to 6,516 fatalities in 2020, according to NHTSA. What’s more, NHTSA estimates that pedestrian deaths climbed to 7,400 in 2021. One suspected contributing factor is the numerous larger vehicles now on the nation’s roadways.
Fleets comprised of SUVs, pickups, vans, and minivans should be particularly aware that they might be more vulnerable to pedestrian crashes.
This is likely due to the way bigger vehicles are built. Wider A-pillars — the struts connecting the roof to the vehicle’s body on either side of the windshield — can create larger blind spots than those of a car, notes the IIHS. Bigger blind spots can make it difficult for drivers to see pedestrians.
In 2022, IIHS released research findings regarding common types of single-vehicle, single-pedestrian crashes at or near intersections and at other locations. The researchers examined how involvement in these crashes varied for three larger vehicle types compared with cars.
At intersections, the odds that a crash that killed a crossing pedestrian involved a left turn by the vehicle versus no turn were about twice as high for SUVs, nearly 3 times as high for vans and minivans, and nearly 4 times as high for pickups as they were for cars. The odds that a crash that killed a crossing pedestrian involved a right turn by the vehicle were also 89% higher for pickups and 63% higher for SUVs than for cars.
Moreover, at other locations, SUVs and pickups were associated with 51% and 25% greater odds than cars of killing a pedestrian walking or running along the road versus a fatal straight-on crash with a crossing pedestrian.
Automakers worked diligently in recent years to make AEB systems standard on the majority of vehicles. Meanwhile, the IIHS began evaluating vehicle-to-vehicle AEB systems in 2013. A pedestrian AEB test was added in 2019, followed by a nighttime test in 2022.
With a commitment on the part of all stakeholders, AEB technology continues to improve. An NHTSA regulation would ensure that even more effective AEB systems, including those with pedestrian detection, would be a reality in the near future. The National Safety Council released a statement saying it hopes to see the requirement extended to large trucks as well, an important segment of road users. The NHTSA proposal has a 60-day comment period.