WASHINGTON -- Pedestrian safety has not been as big an issue in the United States as in Europe and Japan, but that could change.
Congress quietly added a provision to a new, multiyear transportation-funding law requiring a fresh study of pedestrian safety. Study topics should include vehicle-based pedestrian detection and warning systems and vehicle design changes, the law says. A report is due in two years.
In addition, a few automakers are installing pedestrian-friendly features and touting them in advertising. In some cases the features were developed for compliance with overseas rules and added to the U.S. versions.
No one is predicting that U.S. regulators will adopt European-style rules to protect pedestrians anytime soon, but the increased focus on the subject is overdue, said Chuck Thomas, safety manager for Honda R&D Americas Inc.
"It's a problem, I think, that needs to be addressed," Thomas said.
About 5,000 pedestrians are killed on U.S. roads each year. They represent about 12 percent of the total annual highway death toll of 42,000. Pedestrian deaths approach 30 percent of all highway deaths in Japan and some European countries.
Honda is installing energy-absorbing hood supports and breakaway windshield wiper pivots on most Honda and Acura vehicles sold in the United States.
Their purpose is to lessen head injuries if a pedestrian is struck and then falls onto the front of a vehicle. Honda also has developed a groundbreaking pedestrian crash dummy, Thomas told automotive writers in Washington on Sept. 21.
The dummy, Polar II, is capable of measuring head, body and leg injuries.
Volkswagen of America Inc. is advertising pedestrian safety in a campaign for the 2006 Passat, which has features developed for the first phase of pedestrian protection regulations in the European Union.
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