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Vehicle Solutions for Pedestrian Safety

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Nov. 6, 2020—Every 90 minutes, someone is killed while walking, says Greg Rogers, public policy manager for robotics company, Nuro. Pedestrians are among the most vulnerable populations on the road with seemingly zero protections, but many in the automotive and technology industries are aiming to change that. 

Earlier this month, Partners for Automated Vehicle Education hosted a webinar that detailed the available and upcoming advancements in vehicle design, infrastructure, and technology geared toward protecting pedestrians. 

 

Vehicle Design

Pam Fischer, senior director of external engagement for the Governors Highway Safety Association says the size of a vehicle is highly relevant to the severity of damage it could cause. 

“With an uptick in the number of people driving SUVs, we also see the rates of fatalities increase,” she says. 

The design of an SUV is more dangerous to a pedestrian than the design of a compact car. Fischer says SUVs sit up higher than sedans, meaning the way they make contact with the body is far more severe. 

“How do we design these vehicles so they are more forgiving?” she poses. 

Engineers at Nuro have crafted a driverless vehicle that Rogers says is “neighborhood-friendly.”

“[The vehicle] is about half the width of a sedan,” says Rogers, “which is able to give more room to bicyclists and pedestrians.” The vehicle also has unique doors that open upward, completely eliminating the risk of bicyclists to get “doored,” he says.

Nuro’s driverless vehicles are also testing external pedestrian airbags intended to cushion in the event of an impact. 

 

Technology

Vehicle design, while an important and worthy prevention measure, is not the only way to decrease the number of pedestrian deaths. Some companies, such as !important, are turning to technology and software to bridge the safety gap. 

Bastien Beauchamp, CEO at !important, says when it comes to pedestrian deaths, he sees the same 20 scenarios played out over and over. Among the various scenarios, he says drivers are responsible 35 percent of the time. 

That is why his company has developed an app that creates a virtual “protection zone” for pedestrians via their smartphones. 

The pedestrian downloads the app onto their phone, which in turn communicates with connected vehicles in the same area to alert them to the presence of the pedestrian. 

“We send the information to the car, but the car decides how much to slow down and when to brake,” Beauchamp says. “The only power a pedestrian has in front of an AV is their smartphone.”

 

Infrastructure

While software applications like !important’s are useful, they also leave out a large portion of the population. Rogers points out that, “You're more likely to be killed if you're an older person, a person of color, or if you make a lower income.” The latest app on a smartphone is not widely accessible and for that reason, there is infrastructure put in place, but Fischer says that is in need of improvements.

“Protected bike lanes are proven to work,” she says. “It’s a space issue, give folks the space they need on the road.” But it is also a lighting issue, she says. 

“Deaths involving pedestrians in darkness have gone up 67 percent as compared to 16 percent in daytime,” Fischer says.  

Many cities are implementing Vision Zero Policies throughout the country. These policies ensure that everyone has the right to move about safely within their own communities by managing speed, centering equity, and engaging the community. 

“We have spent 50 years protecting the people inside the car,” Rogers says, “which has led to a lack of consideration for people outside the car.” 

But even one death is too much, says Fischer. 

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