New car safety systems struggle to prevent pedestrian crashes at night

Many new cars can effectively apply the brakes on their own to avoid a crash with a pedestrian. But for now, that’s primarily during the daytime, because all bets are off when the sun goes down.

“The major pedestrian fatality problem is at night, and that’s why we wanted to start testing at night,” said Insurance Institute for Highway Safety President David Harkey.

The result: Only one of the 23 vehicles IIHS tested — the Nissan Pathfinder — avoided a collision with a pedestrian dummy in all of its nighttime scenarios.

While they didn’t perform quite as well, the Ford Mustang Mach-E, Toyota Camry and Toyota Highlander joined the Pathfinder in earning IIHS’ highest rating of superior.

Four vehicles — the Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Pilot, Nissan Altima and Toyota Tacoma — performed especially poorly. Those did not slow at all, or barely reduced speed, before striking a dummy in multiple nighttime scenarios.

Manufacturers like Nissan and Toyota can earn both high and low marks because different vehicles can have different pedestrian detection and auto-braking systems, Harkey said.

Still, Harkey maintains the fact that any vehicles did well is encouraging.

“So it’s not that it’s going to take new technology, it’s simply going to take an improvement in the technology that exists to work at nighttime,” he said.

He added that nighttime pedestrian detection and auto-braking were only part of the solution for the nighttime pedestrian death problem, along with factors such as better headlights, slower speeds and educating pedestrians to wear light-colored and reflective clothing.

The nighttime pedestrian tests will become part of IIHS’ Top Safety Pick criteria beginning with the 2023 model year.

John Aaron

John Aaron is a news anchor and reporter for WTOP. After starting his professional broadcast career as an anchor and reporter for WGET and WGTY in Gettysburg, PA, he went on to spend several years in the world of sports media, working for Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network Radio, and WTOP sports.

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