The Current State of Pedestrian Detection Systems: Promising, But Ineffective at Night

The Current State of Pedestrian Detection Systems: Promising, But Ineffective at Night

After the AAA published its report on pedestrian detection systems, Consumer Reports has contributed its own assessment of the feature, which is now included in about a third of new vehicles.

In fact, Consumer Reports is no longer giving credit to a car’s Overall Score for its Auto Emergency Braking (“AEB”) feature unless pedestrian detection is also included. AEB with pedestrian detection is now one of the top safety features recommended by CR, alongside forward collision warning (“FCW”) and blind-spot warning.

According to a spokesman for CR, the AAA report has shown “why effective pedestrian detection should come standard in every new car.” The CR analyst added that safety features like this should become standard, just like seat belts, and rearview cameras. “Technology that saves lives shouldn’t be just a luxury add-on,” he explained.

After testing pedestrian detection systems while vehicles circulated within residential-area speed limits and on dark roads, the AAA said that “drivers must not rely on assistance from current pedestrian detection systems during nighttime driving or other environments with reduced visibility.”

As part of its report, the AAA has issued the following recommendations:

  1. Never rely on pedestrian detection systems to avoid a collision.  
  2. Familiarize yourself with your vehicle’s ADAS [advanced driver assistance systems] features and their limitations. 
  3. Pedestrian detection systems could greatly benefit from improved effectiveness in low-light conditions.  

Meanwhile, Consumer Reports recommends:

  • Stopping at the curb before entering a street
  • Making eye contact or waving at the driver before you cross in front of another car
  • Avoiding smartphone use 
  • Constantly scanning for approaching cars as you cross a street
  • Pedestrians should use sidewalks whenever possible. If they are unavailable, they should walk facing traffic  
  • Pedestrians should wear reflective or bright-colored clothes if walking at nighttime
  • Pedestrians should try to avoid crossing a street on their own, joining other pedestrians instead

According to Jennifer Stockburger, who is in charge of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center, driving at night involves many risks, and headlights are not a magical solution. “From 60 mph, a driver needs about 300 feet to see, react, and brake for anything ahead in the road,” Stockburger explains. 

CR’s headlight tests have demonstrated that low-beam headlights seldom reach that far and that driving at slower speeds, and with more attention, can help prevent crashes occurring after dusk.  

Darkness presents a serious challenge for pedestrian detection systems, but the feature may still be beneficial even if it cannot completely avoid a crash. “If the system can react in time to at least somewhat reduce vehicle speed, it may have injury- and fatality-reducing potential even if a collision cannot be completely avoided,” Stockburger explains.

While the AAA report has found numerous faults with pedestrian detection features, the organization still believes manufacturers should continue to work on perfecting the systems and including pedestrian detection “as standard equipment,” according to the AAA’s director of automotive engineering and industry relations. 

The American Automobile Association believes pedestrian detection could save many lives in the future. However, it still recommends drivers remain vigilant, as the current systems are still not good enough to prevent a crash if the driver is not paying attention to the road.  



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