Prioritizing pedestrian safety

May 31, 2024

By Roger C. Lanctot
Founder, Strategia Now

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has finalized a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard that will make automatic emergency braking (AEB), including pedestrian AEB, standard on all passenger vehicles and light trucks by September 2029.  The significance of the new standard lies in the priority placed on pedestrian safety and the requirement for direct sensing and detection of pedestrians. 

NHTSA has long focused its regulatory energies on the survivability of crashes.  The new standard launches the organization aggressively into the realm of crash avoidance which is a new frontier for life saving innovation. 

The new standard requires all cars be able to stop and avoid contact with a vehicle in front of them at up to 62 miles per hour and that the systems must detect pedestrians in both daylight and darkness.  The standard requires that the system apply the brakes automatically up to 90 mph when a collision with a lead vehicle is imminent, and up to 45 mph when a pedestrian is detected. 

The agency estimates that the new standard, once implemented, will save 360 lives annually and prevent at least 24,000 injuries.  The move comes amidst the consideration and promotion of C-V2X and/or cellular technologies for alerting drivers to the presence of vulnerable road users.  The key difference, though, is the requirement of direct detection. 

The influence of the new standard was manifest at the recent AutoSens event in Detroit in May.  Seven companies were displaying thermal solutions for detecting pedestrians at night: Adasky, Lynred, Flir,, Valeo, Magna, and Obsidian. 

While indirect detection via wireless technology is helpful to drivers, the requirement of direct detection puts an immense burden on auto makers.  It remains to be seen what kind of performance guarantee will go along with the standard and how the capability will be communicated to consumers. 

In an ideal world, cars would not collide with other cars, pedestrians, or inanimate objects.  The standard raises that expectation to a regulatory requirement and simultaneously propels auto makers into the realm of automated driving. 

The new standard is an example of how advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) are incrementally altering how drivers interact with their cars.  From blind spot detection to lane keeping and cross traffic alerts, cars are beginning to intrude into human control of the car – with the intention of coming to the rescue of an inattentive driver. 

It will obviously be many years before the standard is implemented, but the move marks a critical turning point for the industry.  Car makers are being told that they must take more responsibility for the proper operation of their vehicles and technology ought to be employed whenever possible to save lives. 

Of course, this is fantastic news for pedestrians and cyclists who have long suffered the disdain of automobile drivers.  Now – or, rather, soon – even if drivers are inattentive or resentful of bicyclists sharing the road, at least their cars will – on their own – detect and avoid them.  That is definitely progress.


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