Pedestrian Crash Protection Testing Updates Proposed by NHTSA

Updated crash protection testing should evaluate the risk of head, pelvis, and leg injuries to pedestrians hit by vehicles, say federal officials.

Federal highway safety officials have proposed new vehicle crash testing procedures, which would include stricter guidelines for pedestrian protection, as part of a continuing effort to address rising rates of pedestrian deaths caused by car accidents.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a request for public comment on May 22, regarding the agency’s New Car Assessment Program (NCAP.) Following a 60-day public comment period, the NHTSA will further evaluate the proposed changes.

The proposed updates include expanded pedestrian crashworthiness tests on new model vehicles, which would evaluate the risk of injury to pedestrians involved in a traffic accident, as well as mandatory standard safety equipment on newly manufactured vehicles designed to reduce the risks from a pedestrian impact.

Pedestrian Auto Accident Risks

The NHTSA is focusing more on pedestrian and cyclist roadway safety following a surge of pedestrian traffic deaths in recent years, which increased by 37% between 2000 and 2020.

The rise in pedestrian deaths has been blamed on the increasing popularity of SUVs, pickup trucks and other large vehicles, which have become more common on U.S. roadways over the last few decades. These types of vehicles typically have high front ends that can cause catastrophic injuries to pedestrians and cyclists, especially among children.

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New Testing Standards to Examine Impact Risks to Pedestrians

The proposed new crashworthiness test standards would align with the Euro NCAP procedures, which are already widely used throughout Europe, and designed to closely evaluate how newly manufactured vehicles impact cyclists and pedestrians in a traffic crash.

The NHTSA hopes to incorporate into its own NCAP impact measurements from a vehicle’s bumper, leading edge, hood, and windshield. Those areas are typically what impart the most significant injuries to pedestrians and cyclists in a motor vehicle collision.

The proposed new testing procedures would also examine the extent of impact injury from a vehicle to specific regions of the body most affected in a pedestrian involved crash, namely the head, pelvis, legs, and knees. Newly manufactured vehicles would be graded on how well they absorb energy and reduce hard points of contact to minimize injury to pedestrians on their most vulnerable body regions.

The suggested testing updates include mandates for enhanced standard safety equipment on all new vehicles, such as automatic emergency braking (AEB); an in-vehicle system that would automatically stop the vehicle if it senses a pedestrian or cyclist in its path.

While the NHTSA has previously emphasized pedestrian safety through campaigns like its annual National Pedestrian Safety Month, the agency and Department of Transpiration (DOT) officials are hoping the proposed new crash testing safety standards, if implemented, would make pedestrian welfare a mandate for vehicle manufacturers.

“Ensuring the safety of pedestrians is a top priority at DOT, and these proposed updates to NCAP are an important step in addressing the crisis of roadway deaths in America,” said NHTSA Chief Counsel Ann Carlson in a press release. “Vehicles must be designed to protect their occupants while increasing safety for those outside the vehicle, too.”

The NHTSA is accepting public comments on the proposed testing standards for 60 days. Those submitting comments should use the public comment form (PDF) provided by the NHTSA.

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