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Which SUVs Have the Best Pedestrian Detection Systems?

Each year, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety makes it tougher for a vehicle to earn its awards, compelling automakers to raise the bar on safety equipment and the crashworthiness of their vehicles. This year, the agency is moving from a focus on the people inside the vehicle to those outside. For 2019, IIHS set its sights on pedestrian detection systems. 

Related: Crash-Safety Goal Post Moved for 2019: Which Cars Scored Top Honors?

In its first test of model-year 2018 and 2019 vehicles with automatic emergency braking systems that detect pedestrians on foot or bicycle, nine out of the 11 small SUVs tested earned an advanced or superior rating for pedestrian crash prevention.

The vehicles that earned the highest rating of superior include the 2018-19 Honda CR-V, 2019 Subaru Forester, 2019 Toyota RAV4 and 2019 Volvo XC40. Models to earn an advanced rating include the 2019 Chevrolet Equinox, 2018-19 Hyundai Kona, 2019 Kia Sportage, 2018-19 Mazda CX-5 and 2019 Nissan Rogue. Rounding out the bottom of the test pack are the 2019 Mitsubishi Outlander, which earned a basic rating, and the 2018-19 BMW X1, which failed to earn any of the ratings.

Making Seconds Count

IIHS says reducing pedestrian collisions is the goal of its new rating systems because it’s a growing problem. According to federal accident fatality data, pedestrian deaths have risen 45 percent since 2009. IIHS began rating front crash prevention systems in 2013 and gauges the systems’ ability to avoid or reduce a crash’s impact with pedestrian dummies in three different test-track scenarios at two different speeds.

“The first scenario involves an adult pedestrian on the right side of the road entering the street in the path of an oncoming vehicle. This is the most common type of crash involving a pedestrian,” David Aylor, IIHS manager of active safety testing, said in a statement.

The second situation is also common, Aylor said. It simulates a 45-inch-tall, 7-year-old child running into the street from between parked cars. The first two perpendicular tests are the hardest to ace because there is no clear sightline for the camera until the dummy is about 1 to 2 seconds away.

Only the Forester and RAV4 avoided hitting the dummies in the first two tests; the XC40 avoided the adult dummy in the 12-mph and 25-mph tests, and avoided the child dummy in the 12-mph test.

The third and final scenario simulates an adult walking parallel with the vehicle at the edge of the lane, with the pedestrian’s back turned away from traffic. The CR-V and Forester are the only SUVs in the group that issued a warning before automatically braking to mitigate impact.

Two vehicles in the test have some improving to do. The Mitsubishi Outlander mitigated its speed by about 19 mph in the 25-mph parallel adult test and by 11 mph in the 12-mph perpendicular child test, while the X1’s system barely registered during any of the tests. According to IIHS, the X1 didn’t brake at all in the 37-mph parallel adult test and had minimal to no speed reductions in the other scenarios.

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Looking to a Safer Future

The new pedestrian detection system rating will factor into the agency’s larger Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick Plus evaluations starting in the 2020 model year, Russ Radar, senior vice president of communications at IIHS, told us. Currently, to get a Top Safety Pick for 2019, a car needs acceptable or good scores in both the headlight evaluation and passenger-side small overlap front crash test; advanced or superior grades for automatic braking; and good scores in the five remaining tests. To get the Top Safety Pick Plus designation, a car needs superior or advanced grades in automatic braking and good scores on all other evaluations.

According to IIHS, about two-thirds of front crash prevention systems offered on model-year 2019 vehicles have pedestrian detection capabilities. In this test, the system is standard on the Forester, RAV4, Rogue, X1 and XC40. Several automakers are making automatic braking systems with pedestrian detection standard, and the agency would like to see that number grow.

“We want to encourage manufacturers to include pedestrian detection capabilities as they equip more of their vehicles with automatic emergency braking systems,” Aylor said in a statement. “We also want to arm consumers with information about these systems so they can make smart choices when shopping for a new vehicle.”

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