Reducing the impact of collisions

Research carried out by scientists at the University of Surrey could lead to a significant decrease in the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed each year on Europe’s roads.

In-car systems have significantly improved safety for drivers and passengers, and the introduction of soft bumpers and pop-up bonnets has lowered the risk of injury to pedestrians and cyclists, but a system of new sensors currently being developed, could potentially lower the fatality rate even further.

Over 6000 pedestrians and cyclists (Vulnerable Road Users – VRUs) are killed annually on EU roads, this is approximately 25% of all road deaths. In the UK 71% of VRU fatalities occurred at impact speeds under 40mph and 85% of fatalities were injured by the front of the vehicle involved. Deploying external airbags at the front of vehicles could reduce these figures significantly, but a sensor system must be developed to ensure correct and safe deployment.

Scientists believe that a system combining new infrared thermal sensing technology with a high-resolution radar could be the answer. The system would be able to sense walking adults and children as well as wheelchair users and babies in buggies, as it is not reliant on recognising a pre-set ‘human’ shape but the body heat of the individual. This would then enable the radar system to track the subject and deploy a safety system just before impact.

Trials have already taken place using a new, advanced ‘crash test dummy’, which not only has the usual physical properties of such dummies, but also has a human-like heat image.

Dr Eddie Moxey leader of the research at the University of Surrey said: “While we have demonstrated that we can design a sensor system capable of detecting and reacting to a collision with a pedestrian, further development of the safety systems is required before such systems become a commercial reality.

“Automatically applying the vehicle’s brakes to slow the car down is likely to be best practical approach for the first commercial system. The use of airbags is likely to take a little longer, but at least we have made a start.”

Dr Nicola Christie, a leading researcher on child road traffic safety also based at the University said: “road traffic accidents are a major cause of premature death across Europe. Any secondary safety measures, such as these could minimise the severity of injuries among pedestrian and bicyclist casualties and reduce the burden of injury to the individual.”