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Walking is more dangerous than ever. The number of pedestrians killed in crashes spiked nearly 50 percent in the last decade. These fatal collisions increasingly involve big cars speeding along urban and suburban arterial roads at night. Because most vehicles still do not have advanced detection systems, many pedestrians do not stand a chance.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the increase. Bad road design and inconveniently placed crosswalks are high on the list, as are increased speed limits on busy roads designed primarily to funnel traffic toward freeways.

However, there is a solution on the horizon that doesn’t require a reworking of our roadways: our future safety may lie with new car technology and design.

A number of manufacturers now offer crash avoidance systems. Mimicking autonomous driving technology, these technologies rely on an array of cameras and sensors to keep drivers mindful of what is happening on all sides of their vehicle.

Yet, one particular feature has been proven to save pedestrian lives. The forward collision warning (FCW) technology senses the presence of a pedestrian, or a bicyclist, and either alerts the driver or independently stops the car.

Recently, the Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) studied Subaru’s EyeSight system—which uses both FCW and automatic emergency braking (AEB)—and found the combination reduced pedestrian crashes by as much as 35 percent. Toyota, Honda, Ford, Kia, and other car manufacturers also offer versions of FCW/AEB within their fleets.

In this case, IIHS evaluated Subaru’s system by comparing bodily injury liability claims that lacked an associated claim for vehicle damage, (which disproportionately represent injured pedestrians or cyclists), and compared them with Subaru vehicles equipped with and without the EyeSight system.

The results speak for themselves.

Regarding vehicle design, it’s a fact that SUVs, vans and pickup trucks more often strike pedestrians with more serious and fatal consequences. Experts blame the shape and size of such transportation, as the pedestrian is more likely to absorb the blunt force trauma rather than roll off the front of the vehicle.

New research shows that the risk of a fatal injury can be lowered by modifying the front of SUVs to make them “softer” through crushable hoods and fenders, installing padding in the bumper system, and enabling “breakaway” component parts.

By fast-tracking pedestrian detection systems throughout the automobile industry and consciously redesigning the popular SUV market, the industry can start saving lives today and make the roads safer for all of us.

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