Most Vehicles Need Better Nighttime Automatic Emergency Braking: IIHS

Pedestrian detection systems just don't work well in the dark.

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Photo: GREGOR FISCHER/DPA/AFP (Getty Images)

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is taking a stand. Recent studies by the organization have shown that the Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) feature in most vehicles available to consumers just doesn’t work well at night, especially when it comes to pedestrian detection, per Consumer Reports. Now, if automakers want an IIHS Top Safety rating on their vehicles, they’re going to need to start building vehicles with more responsive pedestrian AEB.

The IIHS has introduced a new nighttime test routine in which vehicles are tested on their ability to brake for adults crossing the road or for an adult walking along the side of the road, parallel to the direction of traffic. The tests are run at different speeds and while using high- and low-beam headlights.

After testing 23 models, the IIHS found that only four vehicles received top scores then it comes to pedestrian detection AEB.

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“As we expected, most of these pedestrian AEB systems don’t work very well in the dark, but it’s clear automakers can rise to this new challenge, as Ford, Nissan, and Toyota each earn Superior ratings for some models,” says David Harkey, president of the IIHS, as reported by CR. Those four vehicles were the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Nissan Pathfinder, the Toyota Camry, and the Toyota Highlander.

Nissan’s Pathfinder was the only vehicle that actually managed to avoid hitting both dummies in both scenarios, no matter the speed or headlight brightness. That means the three other top-ranked vehicles still actually made contact with the pedestrian dummy in at least one instance.

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Here’s how the other vehicles ranked, from CR:

The 2022 Honda Accord, Hyundai Palisade, Hyundai Sonata, Nissan Frontier, Nissan Murano, Subaru Ascent, and Subaru Outback received the second-tier Advanced rating. None of these models was able to avoid striking the pedestrian dummy in the 37 mph test, conducted with the dummy positioned parallel to the road.

The 2022 Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Ford Maverick, Ford Ranger, Mazda CX-9, Volkswagen Atlas, Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport, and Volkswagen Tiguan received the third-tier Basic rating.

Four models—the 2022 Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Pilot, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Tacoma—performed so poorly, they didn’t receive any rating in the test. These models did not slow at all or barely reduced their speed before hitting the dummy in multiple test scenarios with low and high beams

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That’s not great!

Automotive-related fatalities have been on the rise lately, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that 7,342 pedestrians were killed by vehicles in 2021. That’s an 80 percent increase over the all-time low in 2009, and a 13 percent increase between 2020 and 2021. Three-quarters of those fatalities occurred at night.

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Automakers love using IIHS safety rankings to promote their vehicles, so mandating a more effective nighttime pedestrian AEB system in order to receive top rankings is likely going to be quite the impetus to improve these technologies in the future.