Experts warn technology not the best answer to rash of pedestrian deaths

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Car manufacturers continue to tout breakthroughs in vehicle technology, but studies from AAA and other transportation experts are showing those improvements may not always work.

In a video shared with ABC11, analysts tested four midsize sedans equipped with those features in a variety of scenarios. Testing was conducted on a closed course using simulated pedestrian targets for the following scenarios:

  • An adult crossing in front of a vehicle traveling at 20 mph and 30 mph during the day and at 25 mph at night.
  • A child darting out from between two parked cars in front of a vehicle traveling at 20 mph and 30 mph.
  • A vehicle turning right onto an adjacent road with an adult crossing at the same time.
  • Two adults standing along the side of the road with their backs to traffic, with a vehicle approaching at 20 mph and 30 mph.

  • According to AAA researchers, the systems were most effective when an adult ran in front of a vehicle traveling at 20 mph during the day. Still, those cars only avoided collisions 40% of the time. When the speed went up, the percentage went down.

    The other simulations, according to AAA, fared even worse for the vehicles:

  • When encountering a child darting from between two cars, with the vehicle traveling at 20 mph, a collision occurred 89% of the time
  • Immediately following a right-hand turn, all of the test vehicles collided with the adult pedestrian.
  • When approaching two adults standing alongside the road, with the vehicle traveling at 20 mph, a collision occurred 80% of the time.
  • In general, the systems were ineffective in all scenarios where the vehicle was traveling at 30 mph.
  • At night, none of the systems detected or reacted to the adult pedestrian.

  • Pedestrian deaths rising across NC and nation

    AAA's research comes at an increasingly perilous time for pedestrians.

    In Wake County alone, three people were killed in three separate incidents earlier this month.

    "Across the United States in 2018 we hit a 30 year high in the number of people who were killed while walking on the roads," Dr. Laura Sandt, Associate Director of the Highway Research Center at UNC Chapel Hill, explains to ABC11. "In North Carolina, we've seen a rising trend in pedestrian fatalities almost every year since about 2009."

    Sandt, who has also conducted analysis on vehicle technologies, adds that the increase in pedestrian and bicycle traffic lead to more crowded roads and heightened urgency regarding safety.

    "While we're encouraged by new technologies, at the end of the day technologies cannot overcome physics," Sandt laments. "When we have vehicles that are heavy and moving at high speeds, they take a long time to slow down. Researchers are aware that a five mile per hour reduction in speed limits can be the difference between life and death."
    Sandt says city planners - in addition to driver and pedestrian awareness - can play a major role in improving safety.

    "Having lower speed roads, raised crossings, higher visibility crossings and sometimes other signage and pavement markings," she explains. "I think we need more awareness that pedestrians are legitimate users of our roadways and we need to be building safer spaces and environments for them.

    City of Raleigh studying pedestrian safety, too

    State and local officials are also working on improving pedestrian safety, especially in Downtown Raleigh.

    Just this month the Office of State Human Resources (OSHR) launched a new pedestrian safety initiative, WalkSmartNC, and simultaneously began seeking comments on a downtown pedestrian safety study.

    The study area's approximate boundary ranges from Hargett Street in the south to Peace Street in the north and from Dawson Street in the west to Bloodworth Street in the east.

    Click here to take the survey.

    The survey will be open through Friday, Nov. 8.
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