Automakers focus on preventing pedestrian injuries

Each year in the U.S., approximately 70,000 people are injured and 4,000 people are killed in pedestrian accidents. Although the occupants of automobiles are protected by seatbelts, airbags and other safety equipment, pedestrians have no protection from injury. Recently, several automakers have begun efforts to alter the exteriors of their vehicles in order to offer some injury protection to victims of pedestrian accidents.

In many pedestrian accidents, the victim is hit in the legs and thrown onto the hood of the car. Although the initial impact can cause severe injuries, a person can suffer additional injury when his head hits the windshield or windshield wiper arms. In recent years, automakers have begun altering the design of their vehicles in an effort to mitigate the potential for severe injury if a driver hits a pedestrian.

For example, all new Honda and Acura vehicles sold in the U.S. are made so that their fender panels are offset from their frames. Likewise, the hoods of these cars are offset from their engines. Honda believes that this provides some cushion in the event that a driver hits a pedestrian. The automaker has also installed breakaway windshield wiper arms on all of its new vehicles to limit the damage caused to pedestrian accident victims who are thrown onto the hoods of its cars.

Realistically, of course, there is only so much that automakers can do to make steel and glass safer for unprotected pedestrians. Volvo has chosen to go a different route by developing a combination of safety systems. First, some new Volvo models come equipped with a pedestrian recognition system, which activates the brakes if a pedestrian is detected in a car's path. Second, if the recognition system fails, these vehicles have a pedestrian airbag system, which deploys an airbag over the windshield and side pillars of the car if a pedestrian is hit. Unfortunately, both of these systems are standard features on models that are not available in the U.S.

Currently, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration is developing regulations governing pedestrian safety standards for vehicles in the U.S. The timeline for the implementation of these regulations is unclear, but consideration by the NHTSA is a step in the right direction. Encouraging automakers to include these new safety technologies in their vehicles may not only save the lives of pedestrians and even bicyclists, but could also help make the roads safer for drivers, as well.