Cars need more than a clear view of the road ahead for new safety technology to fulfill its lifesaving potential. They need a better idea of what's happening along the periphery of their paths.
As transportation officials struggle to address a dramatic and chronic increase in pedestrian deaths on U.S. roadways, automakers and suppliers are introducing technology that improves the effectiveness of systems such as automated emergency braking.
They are enhancing the performance and placement of cameras and radar sensors that are better designed to spot pedestrians and bicyclists who emerge from the sides of a vehicle path. Those road users can be tricky to spot for motorists and driver-assist systems alike.
"It's very sad because there's technology that exists that can address these things," said Kay Stepper, vice president of driver assistance and automated driving at Bosch.
Even as new technology makes vehicles safer for occupants, travel has grown more deadly for pedestrians and bicyclists. In 2018, the most recent year for which there is federal data, 6,283 pedestrians were killed in traffic crashes — 17 percent of overall traffic deaths. That's up 3.4 percent from the previous year, and it's the highest number in more than two decades.
It's not a one-year anomaly. During the 10-year period from 2009 through 2018, pedestrian fatalities increased by 53 percent, while all other traffic deaths combined increased by 2 percent, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, which estimates pedestrian fatalities rose another 5 percent in 2019.