Automakers, NHTSA focus on pedestrian safety

(Photo: John Pastor / Flickr)(Photo: John Pastor / Flickr)

Honda, Volvo and General Motors are working to design changes to make their vehicles safer for pedestrians, according to a report from The Japan Times.

Among those changes are breakaway wipers, hoods designed to absorb impact energy and exterior air bags designed to keep a pedestrian’s head from hitting the windshield.

The number of pedestrians killed in traffic accidents in 2011 was 4,432, or 14 percent of people killed in traffic accidents, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

But Jacqueline Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said that number can be reduced.

“A pedestrian that’s hit by a car, it doesn’t have to be a death sentence,” Gillan said.

Doug Longhitano, U.S.-based Honda safety research manager, said the automaker has been implementing safety designs on Honda and Acura models sold in the U.S. since 2008. The safety features include fenders offset from the frame and hoods offset from the engines, both designed to take the impact. Additionally, windshield wipers are designed to break away in case a person comes in contact with them.

Volvo introduced a windshield air bag for the 2013 model year. The air bag comes standard on the automakers V40, but it is not available in the U.S.

GM Spokeswoman Heather Rosenker said General Motors has also begun to design it vehicles with space between the hood and engine.

In addition to automakers efforts to increase pedestrian safety, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said auto regulators are trying to create global pedestrian safety standards.

“It’s a two-step process, but traditionally speaking, those global technical regulations are very close to what will ultimately result in a final regulation here in the United States,” Strickland said.

NHTSA is also making other efforts to make vehicles safer for pedestrians. At the beginning of this year, the agency proposed a requirement that electric and hybrid-electric cars sound off warnings for nearby bicyclists and pedestrians.

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The agency has also considered including pedestrian protection in its revision of the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), a five-star rating system that influences vehicle purchases.