This year, some automakers are taking their first steps to reduce fatalities by redesigning vehicle exteriors, while Honda and Mercedes are developing sensing technologies that will automatically reduce impact. More than 60 percent of pedestrian fatalities – and there are 14 each day – are due to head injuries, according to Baker. He said that fatalities are frequently caused when a person’s head is forced against the hood and windshield wiper area.
For those accidents that can’t be avoided, Honda is researching adding airbags into the A-pillar between the front and back seat that would expand outside of the vehicle and protect pedestrians if they strike its side, Baker said.
New European safety requirements are motivating automakers to introduce pedestrian safety technologies. LaGuerra said the European Commission requires automakers to meet 2003 safety directive (2003/102/EC) beginning in October 2005. LaGuerra said the first generation electronic-based systems would be reactive and attempt to minimize injury after impact by raising the hood at the base of the windshield.
Upon a front impact with a pedestrian, the hood will automatically rise to create a space above the much harder engine block and prevent penetrating the windshield. Reducing contact with the engine and windshield can dramatically reduce head injuries, according to Honda
Vehicle designs that favor pedestrian safety are likely to influence models produced in other regions such as the U.S. market, according to LaGuerra. Manufacturers will have to meet even tougher European requirements in 2010.
Honda has been performing its own pedestrian safety tests for many years and introduced its first vehicle with pedestrian safety features in 2000, and since then the company has sold 3 million cars with these features, according to Baker.
Mercedes-Benz will introduce a vehicle next year with a hood redesigned for pedestrian safety and is investigating redesigning its bumpers, according to company spokesman Robert Moran.
“However, we believe that increasing passive safety features holds much less promise to the goal of reducing injury severity and frequency of pedestrian collisions [than] active safety [technologies],” said Moran in an email.
Karl Brauer, editor in chief of automotive website Edmunds.com, said reducing pedestrian fatalities in the United States is difficult because there are more large vehicles such as SUVs and trucks on the road. Some vehicles that cannot pass the European tests will only be sold in the United States, he said.
Consumers will likely see continual improvements in safety feautres during the next few years as automakers seek to differentiate their vehicles, according to LaGuerra. These technologies should reduce the number and severity of collisions with other vehicles and pedestrians.