Despite increased awareness and safety technology, a pedestrian being hit by a car is not really that unusual. In the U.S., 4,654 pedestrians were killed in motor vehicle collisions in 2007, while pedestrian accidents comprise about 11 percent of motor vehicle deaths annually, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). While pedestrian deaths have declined steadily, they still occur.
In order to design vehicles to cause less injury to a pedestrian in a collision, engineers and researchers spend time reviewing real-world crash data, using computer simulations of crashes and performing actual crash testing with full dummies and test devices, called impactors, that represent portions of dummies’ bodies. Statistics show that most pedestrians are struck by the front of a vehicle, but what happens in the crash varies widely depending on several factors, including the type of vehicle, its speed and the height of the pedestrian. The result is a multitude of scenarios that makes studying these accidents challenging.
To respond to this wide range of scenarios, automakers began addressing pedestrian accidents decades ago by focusing on the obvious vehicle features that could cause harm. Protruding hood ornaments, for example, were embedded in the grille or designed to collapse on impact, while exterior mirrors are now mounted on springs. Even a styling feature such as recessed door handles has helped reduce pedestrian injury. In recent years, vehicle design has focused on making subtle changes to the front end of the vehicle that aren’t obvious to consumers. One example is changing the way that the fenders, hood and windshield wipers are attached, so their performance strength is maintained but they can easily collapse when impacted by a pedestrian.
Hood design and engine compartments have received many subtle design changes. Today the vast majority of vehicles sold in the U.S. have braces supporting the hood that crush when they are impacted from above, such as by a person’s head. In addition, a plastic engine cover serves to soften the impact, as does increased space between the hood and the cover. Automotive engineers and researchers, as well as experts from the safety and medical fields, continue to study vehicle-pedestrian collisions, developing other ways to reduce pedestrian injury while still maintaining a high level of safety for the vehicle’s occupants.
One vehicle design we may see on future U.S. models is a pop-up hood system, which would lift the hood a few inches in the area closest to the windshield, effectively giving a larger cushion of space underneath it in the event of a pedestrian impact. It’s likely that the future design changes we see on vehicles in the U.S. will be driven by safety standards overseas. Both Japan and Europe recently instituted more pedestrian safety standards and the European Union has even more stringent standards set to go into effect in 2010.
Posted by reedman on Apr 19 2010 in Vehicle Safety