Recent AAA Study Warns: Do Not Rely on Vehicle Automatic Safety Features

Drivers should not rely on their vehicle’s automatic emergency braking system, according to a recent article discussing a combined study by AAA and the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center.

The study reveals significant inconsistencies in the performance of pedestrian safety features, and the complete failure of the tested vehicles’ automatic emergency braking system at nighttime. The results make clear the need for continued testing within the industry and a call for both driver and pedestrian awareness that the automatic features are far from perfect.

Noting the growing occurrence of pedestrian fatalities, AAA highlighted the pedestrian safety features, testing four midsize sedan models in four pedestrian-oriented scenarios. The testing took place on a closed circuit with simulated pedestrians in the following situations:

  • Sedan traveling at 20 and 30 mph during daytime and 25 mph at nighttime with an adult pedestrian crossing
  • Sedan traveling at 20 and 30 mph and a child running out from two adjacently parked cars
  • Sedan turning right simultaneously with an adult crossing
  • An approaching sedan traveling at 20 and 30 mph with two adults, with backs to traffic, standing on the roadside

The results fell far short of promising. The best performance involved the sedan traveling at 20 mph during the day with an adult crossing. In this situation, a collision occurred 40% of the time.

Unfortunately, 40% prevention was the best result amongst the tested scenarios. The automatic braking systems increasingly failed in all the other tested situations. All the right-hand turning vehicles hit the pedestrian; a collision occurred 89% of the time where the vehicle was traveling 20 mph and the child ran between two parked vehicles; and, the systems failed completely at nighttime.

Although the results are less than encouraging, Greg Brannon of AAA says they hope to use the study results “to identify where the gaps exist to help educate consumers and share these findings with manufacturers to work to improve their functionality.”

Bringing awareness to drivers and pedestrians during this time of continued testing and software development may help prevent pedestrian accidents. In a world of growing reliance on technology, awareness of study results such as these may help lessen a false sense of security in automatic braking systems amongst drivers and pedestrians alike.

While studies lead to improvement in the industry, pedestrian accidents continue to occur. Where does that leave drivers and pedestrians? In general, drivers owe a duty of care to pedestrians. And, in turn, pedestrians have rights and duties while walking on the roadways.

Pedestrians generally have the right of way when properly in crosswalks, as opposed to jaywalking. Drivers, typically, must yield the right of way to pedestrians following signals and within crosswalks. Following the rules of the road and taking proper precautions are key safety factors, but even the most careful practices will not prevent all accidents from happening.

Where a pedestrian accident occurs, questions arise as to liability. Who is liable when an automatic safety feature fails to perform? Where a defect is in question, liability may lie with both the developer of the technology, as well as the vehicle manufacturer.

And, what about the false reliance on the safety technology – is the driver at fault where the vehicle’s pedestrian-safety feature fails to perform? With test results such as those found by AAA’s study, it further solidifies the fact that motorists should drive with the same degree of care as if their vehicle was not outfitted with automatic emergency braking systems. Ultimately, the automatic safety feature does not replace a person’s duty to drive in a safe and reasonable manner. Where the driver’s conduct caused the accident, liability may still naturally be placed on them.

The conduct of the pedestrian may factor into liability as well – if the pedestrian is at fault, then liability may lie with them. Additionally, in states that apply comparative negligence theories, negligent conduct on both sides of the accident are factored into who, ultimately, is liable and must pay for damages.

With many strides left to go in the race to develop highly effective automatic safety features, the occurrence of pedestrian accidents will likely continue to persist. However, with the growing presence of safety technology in vehicles, additional considerations come into play regarding who is liable.

A post by Oklahoma Car Accident Lawyer Clayton Hasbrook of Hasbrook & Hasbrook

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