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Don't Hit that Person! The Benefits of Pedestrian Detection Systems

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author photo by Autotrader February 2011

Although pedestrian traffic fatalities have decreased over the past four years, car manufacturers are working even harder to protect car and walker, by way of pedestrian detection systems, which warn drivers when someone is in front of the car.

One of the most buzzed about systems is in the 2011 Volvo S60. In a nutshell, the car’s cameras and radar can detect a pedestrian in front of the car, and alert the driver with beeping and flashing lights. If the driver fails to brake, the car takes over and stops before an impact occurs. (If the driver turns the wheel, which the car interprets as evasive maneuvering, the braking stops.) The catch is that the system only engages when the car travels at speeds of 22 mph and slower, and it only works in the daytime. This option, part of a $2,100 technology package, could be a lifesaver–literally–if the driver is temporarily distracted in a busy urban area; but at night, going 55 mph on a highway, not so much.

In that scenario, the Mercedes-Benz, BMW or Audi would be a better choice. To the already-existing Night View Assist Plus system, Mercedes has added pedestrian detection, using infrared sensors and cameras to detect pedestrians up to 500 feet away and displays the image on the instrument screen. Later this year, cars will have spotlights that shine on the person, which both the driver and the pedestrian would notice, but other cars would be immune to. The system is standard on the S600, S65AMG, CL600 and CL65, and costs between $1,780 (E-Class and S-Class) and $3,490 (CL550).

BMW’s night vision option has been available on the 7-Series since 2005 and since then has expanded to 5-Series and Gran Turismo models. This system (which costs $2,600) uses a camera in the front grille to detect pedestrians from 10 to 100 yards away and alerts the driver with a sound and warning on the control display. Unlike the Volvo, this only works at speeds of 25 mph or faster.

Audi’s A6, A8 and A8L’s Night Vision Assistant with Pedestrian Detection works in the same way, sensing the pedestrian via camera and infrared and alarming the driver if it moves into the car’s path. Once the warning has been detonated, other driver assistance technologies may deploy, such as the braking guard, which jolts the car to alert the driver and when the brakes are pressed, full braking is immediate. The option adds $2,300 to the price tag.

Effective in both the day and the night is Lexus’s Advanced Pre-Collision System with Active Pedestrian Detection System ($5,800 on LS 600hL and $5,860 on LS 460). Using four cameras (and infrared technology at night), it detects pedestrians in the car’s path, alerts the driver, then instigates braking and makes the steering more sensitive for quick, evasive action.

While most of these systems are additional options to purchase and may sting a little upfront, when they save a pedestrian’s life, it’ll seem worth every penny.

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Don't Hit that Person! The Benefits of Pedestrian Detection Systems - Autotrader