Automatic car braking: A work in progress


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Pedestrian accidents are on the rise.

The federal government says about 6,000 pedestrians are killed every year —and here in North Carolina, those numbers are also increasing.

According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, 225 people died last year in pedestrian accidents.

The Governor’s Highway Safety Association calls the increase in pedestrian deaths across the county “alarming.”

Automakers are trying to help reduce those deaths with new technology— but it’s still not perfected.

Having a system to stop your car in case you’re distracted or your reflexes just aren’t fast enough appears to be a huge bonus, but a new study says that technology may not work the way it’s supposed to.

Using various sensing systems, a vehicle identifies potential obstacles. It’ll warn you and if you take no action, it’ll brake your vehicle.

It’s called auto braking technology.

Triple AAA says it tested the systems in 4 midsize sedans and found that technology can be unreliable when it comes to pedestrians.

They used mechanical dummies that are made to cross a street to test their systems.

In one test, a child darts out from behind two cars. The AAA found 90 percent of the time the technology failed to stop a vehicle traveling 20 miles per hour.

The AAA tests also found every time a car turned a corner on its test track, it also hit the pedestrian.  

When the tested sedan going 20 miles per hour encountered two adults, AAA researchers found it hit the dummies 80 percent of the time.

The results were even worse in the dark.

“The biggest thing we uncovered is the fact that these systems do not work at night,” said Greg Brannon who is the AAA’s Director Of Automotive Engineering And Industry Relations. He told CBS News, “If you look at the situation where the pedestrians are most vulnerable, it’s at night.”

Despite the imperfections in the systems, the editor and chief of Edmunds told consumer investigator Steve Sbraccia, the systems do have value.

“Here at Edmunds we test over 300 vehicles a year,” said Alistair Weaver.

“Some systems are better than others. Sometimes in different weather conditions or different traffic conditions they can get caught out a little bit, but it’s better to have that tech than not.”

A recent study by IIHS of General Motors cars looked at how auto braking worked well in preventing collisions between vehicles.

It found in vehicles with optional crash detection and auto braking features, crashes were reduced by 43 percent and injuries from those kinds of crashes dropped by 64 percent.

But, there’s still a ways to go when it comes to those systems preventing pedestrian accidents, as automakers move towards making auto braking standard by the 2022 model year.

The big take-away from all of this: don’t let your vehicle do the driving for you—even if you have these systems. 

Experts say you should also familiarize yourself with any driver assistance systems in your car so that they become second nature when you drive.

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