AAA Car Testing Shows Pedestrian Detection Tech Is Far From Effective

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Your ride might seem almost capable of driving itself at times, whether it’s slowing down in response to traffic or parallel parking. Just when you think we’re living in the magical future of autonomous cars, a Tesla gets in a crash trying to drive across a parking lot. AAA recently ran a series of tests with cars that use rudimentary autonomous driving to avoid hitting other cars and pedestrians, and it says you should still be wary while in the crosswalk

Just a few years ago, you had to spend big to get vehicles with radar modules and cameras that could identify potential obstacles in your path. Now, the feature is becoming standard on mid-range trim levels. AAA tested several popular vehicles, including the 2019 Chevy Malibu, 2019 Honda Accord, 2019 Tesla Model 3, and 2019 Toyota Camry for this test. All four claim to be able to spot someone walking in front of the car.

The report, which you can read in full on AAA’s site, tested several scenarios during the day and at night. AAA conducted the tests at 20-30 miles per hour, which is generally in the range of driving speeds in a neighborhood setting. They simulated an adult walking out in front of traffic, a child darting out from between two parked cars, and more. 

The vehicles performed best with an adult crossing the road, avoiding collisions about 40 percent of the time at 20 miles per hour. However, the smaller silhouette of a child wasn’t recognized as quickly. In this test, the car hit the test dummy 89 percent of the time. In general, all the systems were ineffective at 30 miles per hour, no matter the scenario. At night, the systems didn’t even ping the driver to reduce speed. 

Tesla Model S autopilot sensors

Tesla Model S autopilot sensors

Car manufacturers are usually very careful about making grandiose claims about the self-driving features in modern vehicles. Although, Tesla has talked a big game about its Autopilot system. The recent launch of its V10 software included a new summon capability that lets the car maneuver around in a parking lot. This has been imperfect, to say the least, and Tesla’s sensor suite is the most advanced thing outside of the prototype systems under testing by Waymo and others. 

AAA’s point here doesn’t seem to be that accident avoidance features are a bad thing, but that they’re not good enough to trust yet. Avoiding 40 percent of adult collisions in optimal conditions is no small feat. Drivers and pedestrians just need to take their safety seriously rather than trusting the car to do it for them.

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