Summer of Safer Vehicles for Pedestrians?

vehicle grill on a truck

What happened and what’s next for two USDOT proposals

Summer may be over, but America’s top traffic regulators still have a lot of reading to do. Between May and August, America Walks supporters submitted over 2,700 comments to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in support of two proposals to make vehicles safer for pedestrians. Now the ball is in NHTSA’s court to take action, improve these rules, and finalize them as quickly as possible.

Here’s the scoop on both proposals and what’s next.

Dangerous vehicles shouldn’t get 5-star safety ratings

Pedestrian deaths on our roads are at a forty-year high in the United States and larger unsafe cars and trucks contribute significantly to this crisis. The number of pedestrians killed by pickup trucks, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), vans, and minivans has more than doubled between 2010 and 2021

In response, NHTSA asked for comments on how to rate cars based on safety for pedestrians through its New Car Assessment Program (NCAP), the five-star safety rating program advertised to consumers. 

But the agency’s proposal didn’t go nearly far enough. Under its proposal, a vehicle could receive a failing grade for pedestrian crashworthiness, but still earn an overall five-star safety rating, misrepresenting a vehicle as safe when it is not. In addition, the proposal failed to evaluate limited driver visibility, a known safety flaw for larger vehicles, and wouldn’t display pedestrian crashworthiness ratings at the point of sale, where most consumers would see them.

Such a program is sorely needed and long overdue, but it’s imperative to get it right. 

That’s why we and our supporters told NHTSA that evaluations should be held to the highest standards and include driver visibility. We also called for the results from pedestrian crashworthiness evaluations to be incorporated directly in NCAP’s star rating system and that they’re visible to the consumer at the point of sale. 

Finally, we also asked NHTSA to commit to including standards and technologies that protect people outside cars in an updated Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), the standards that are mandatory in all vehicles.

Pedestrian Automatic Emergency Braking close to being required in cars

In 2022, thousands of Americans voiced their support for increased Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards during NHTSA’s Request for Comments on its safety rating system – the New Car Assessment Program.

A year later, NHTSA proposed a rule to require all new cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks to have Pedestrian Automatic Emergency Braking (PAEB) three years after the rule was finalized. Significantly, this rule is close to the finish line, with only two steps remaining before it is final. 

PAEB detects pedestrians and applies the brakes before hitting someone. This technology isn’t new. It’s been around for years and government vehicle safety programs across the globe already include PAEB.
America Walks has long called for mature safety technologies like PAEB to be incorporated directly into the required FMVSS that apply to all new vehicles. We applaud NHTSA for taking this action and ask the agency to hold automakers to the highest possible standards of PAEB. The technology deployed should be able to detect everyone on the road outside of a vehicle, including children, people with dark skin tones, and people using bikes and mobility devices.

What’s next?

For the rulemaking on PAEB, NHTSA will prepare a final rule after reviewing the comments it received. The final rule is then subject to last review by the White House Office of Budget and Management. According to USDOT’s 2022 National Roadway Safety Strategy, this should be completed in 2024. 

The NCAP pedestrian safety ratings are farther off. NHTSA only issued a Request for Comments and has yet to propose an actual rule. NHTSA now needs to craft a rule, which will then be subject to an initial review by the White House Office of Budget and Management. We can expect to see another comment period once NHTSA publishes a proposed rule, which the National Roadway Safety Strategy also anticipates in 2024.

While neither of these proposed rules is a silver bullet to deal with dangerous streets and driving, they both represent meaningful action at the federal level, if they’re implemented in a rigorous manner. A great, big thank you is due to everyone who, with their comments, urged NHTSA to craft stronger rules for safer vehicles.America Walks continues the call for safer vehicles for pedestrians and will alert you of future opportunities to take action as these rules approach the finish line!

To learn more about our ‘Safer Vehicles’ campaign, visit our campaign pages.