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Self-Driving Cars Still Struggle to Identify Pedestrians at Night 


Cars with self-driving features are becoming increasingly common in Temecula and throughout California. Manufacturers from Tesla to Ford to Honda are producing vehicles that boast automated driving systems that can take action without the driver’s input. For instance, many new vehicles come with computerized safety features that are supposed to stop the car automatically if it detects a hazard or pedestrian on the road. 

The question is whether these systems actually accomplish their goals. According to a recent report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), many vehicles can apply the brakes on their own to avoid pedestrians during daylight. However, the majority of all pedestrian fatalities occur after dark. For this safety feature to make an impact, it needs to identify pedestrians in low-light conditions and stop. 

Unfortunately, many of these vehicles still have problems identifying hazards accurately at night. When the IIHS performed its first annual study of nighttime pedestrian automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems, it determined that most vehicles perform significantly worse after dark. Of 23 tested cars, only the Nissan Pathfinder stopped in all nighttime pedestrian collision scenarios, earning a superior rating.

Other vehicles tested to receive the superior rating were the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Toyota Camry, and the Toyota Highlander. Seven additional vehicles were rated advanced:

  • Honda Accord
  • Hyundai Palisade
  • Hyundai Sonata
  • Nissan Frontier
  • Nissan Murano
  • Subaru Ascent
  • Subaru Outback

Eight received were rated as basic:

  • Chevrolet Traverse
  • Ford Explorer
  • Ford Maverick
  • Ford Ranger
  • Mazda CX-9
  • Volkswagen Atlas
  • Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport
  • Volkswagen Tiguan

Finally, the Chevrolet Malibu, Honda Pilot, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Tacoma were not given a rating at all due to poor performance. Only 11 vehicles received advanced or superior safety ratings after dark, while 19 received those ratings during the day. 

Another item to note is which types of vehicles performed best at night. Crossovers and sedans were significantly more likely to be rated highly in the nighttime test, while midsize SUVs and pickups performed worse. This is unfortunate because larger vehicles are more likely to cause pedestrian fatalities in accidents; the reduced performance of these SUVs and pickups means that these safety features aren’t fulfilling their full potential, and pedestrians remain at risk.

Avoiding Nighttime Car Accidents

Play Whether you’re more frequently a driver or a pedestrian, you can do your part to reduce nighttime crashes. Drivers can reduce the risk of causing an accident whether or not they’re in a self-driving car by taking the following precautions:

  • Always be on alert for pedestrians, regardless of the time of day. 
  • Drive more slowly and take extra care around intersections or in residential areas.
  • Never drive impaired.
  • Follow traffic laws, including speed limits, stop signs and lights, and pedestrian yield zones.
  • Be particularly cautious when visibility is poor at night or in bad weather.
  • Never rely on your AEB or self-driving car to identify pedestrians; remain aware of your surroundings even if your vehicle is in control. 

Pedestrians can’t always rely on drivers to pay attention, though. Despite years of road safety campaigns, people still get behind the wheel drunk and text while driving. If you have to walk or bike after dark, you can protect yourself by: 

  • Wear brightly colored or reflective clothing if you have to walk or bike between dusk and dawn.
  • Avoid traveling when impaired to ensure you have the best chance of seeing cars before you enter the road.
  • Follow traffic laws, including crossing at crosswalks or intersections and walking on sidewalks whenever possible.
  • Always look for traffic in all directions before you cross the road, and don’t rely on drivers yielding to you or obeying traffic signals. Make sure the road is clear, or all vehicles are stopped before you go. 
  • If you must cross the street and an intersection or crosswalk isn’t available, cross only in well-lit areas with a good view of oncoming traffic, so you know when it’s safe. 

Liability in Self-Driving and AEB Vehicle Accidents

When pedestrian crashes happen, self-driving cars raise complex questions regarding liability. There is a strong argument that manufacturers may be partially liable for car accidents involving fully automated vehicles. However, precedent is still being set in these situations, so it is unclear how liability will be determined for self-driving cars in crashes. 

Liability for crashes involving AEB systems may be complicated as well. Drivers are not supposed to rely on the AEB to avoid collisions. Instead, they are supposed to drive as usual, watching for pedestrians and other hazards and reacting accordingly. The AEB is intended to be a last-resort failsafe in case the driver doesn’t see something or doesn’t have time to respond. As such, drivers are often liable for accidents even if their vehicles had AEB and the system didn’t engage. 

However, manufacturers may sometimes be liable for AEB failures that cause crashes. An accident may be grounds for a product liability claim if the manufacturer did not provide clear instructions and warnings regarding the use of the system or if the system’s failure or performance made the accident worse. 

This complexity is why it is in your best interest to consult with experienced car accident attorneys if you believe you have a viable case. Working with a qualified lawyer to ensure you build a strong case is essential because vehicle manufacturers have legal teams specifically dedicated to defending against claims like yours. The experts at the Ellis Helm, APC, are prepared to help you build your case and litigate or settle your claim to receive the best possible outcome. 

Get Help After You’re Hit After Dark

If you’ve been hit by a self-driving car or a vehicle with an AEB system, you deserve compensation for your injuries. At the Ellis Helm, APC, we work closely with you to investigate the incident and build your case. We will help you pursue the necessary damages to cover medical expenses and other losses you’ve suffered. Reach out today to discuss your case and learn more about how our expert Temecula car accident lawyers can help you hold the liable parties responsible for your injuries.