How well can high-tech cars avoid pedestrians? Safety group puts systems to the test

Many automakers are adding high-tech systems that can automatically stop cars from colliding with pedestrians. But the effectiveness of these systems vary widely, according to new rankings released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The institute tested the pedestrian crash-prevention systems on 16 luxury and nonluxury mid-size cars and released its findings in a new report Tuesday. It was releasing its findings now, in part, because the days around Halloween are typically the deadliest for pedestrians, the group said.

Overall, more expensive luxury cars, in which these high-tech systems usually come standard, generally fared better than their nonluxury counterparts. Of the six cars that earned a “superior” ranking, four were luxury styles.

However, two nonluxury cars — the Subaru Outback and the Nissan Maxima — also earned the highest safety ratings, according to IIHS.

Cars rated superior had systems that were able to “dramatically” lower speeds and, in most cases, avoid pedestrian collisions outright during testing, IIHS said.

On the other end of the safety rankings, the Ford Fusion, the Hyundai Sonata and the Kia Optima earned no credit for their systems because they failed multiple test scenarios, the group said. The Ford Fusion, for example, did not slow at all in one test that used pedestrian dummies to simulate a child darting out behind two parked cars.

The tests conducted by IIHS used crash dummies and included three different scenarios: An adult pedestrian stepping into the path of an oncoming vehicle without an obstructed view; an adult pedestrian in the travel lane near the side of the road facing away from traffic; and the test simulating a child running into the street from behind the parked cars.

“The child dashing out from behind parked cars is a very challenging test,” said IHS President David Harkey in a news release. “But it’s fitting that it was one of the main things that separated the top systems from the rest of the pack, since that is certainly a frightening scenario on Halloween, or any day.”

Since reaching a low in 2009, the number of pedestrians killed each year in crashes has increased by 53%, IIHS said. Last year, more than 6,000 pedestrians were killed in crashes.


SUPERIOR


Superior-rated systems means they avoided crashes or slowed “substantially,” IIHS said.

  • 2019 Audi A4 (standard)
  • 2019-20 BMW 3 series (standard)
  • 2020 Subaru Outback (standard)
  • 2019-20 Mercedes-Benz C-Class (optional)
  • 2019-20 Nissan Maxima (optional for 2019/standard for 2020)
  • 2019 Volvo S60 (standard)

ADVANCED


Advanced-rated systems also saw major speed reductions, “though somewhat less consistently,” IIHS said.

  • 2019-20 BMW 3 series (optional)
  • 2019-20 Honda Accord (standard)
  • 2019-20 Lexus ES 350 (standard)
  • 2019 Mazda 6 (standard)
  • 2019-20 Nissan Altima (optional)
  • 2019-20 Tesla Model 3 (standard)
  • 2019-20 Toyota Camry (standard)

BASIC


IIHS said these cars failed to slow significantly in one or more of the tests.

  • 2019-20 Chevrolet Malibu (optional camera only)
  • 2019-20 Chevrolet Malibu (optional camera + radar)
  • 2019-20 Mercedes-Benz C-Class (standard)

NO CREDIT


IIHS said these cars failed to slow significantly in multiple test scenarios.

  • 2019-20 Ford Fusion (standard)
  • 2019 Hyundai Sonata (optional)
  • 2019 Kia Optima (optional)

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