What is pedestrian protection

Car manufacturers continue to quote statistics on how good their latest model’s ‘pedestrian protection’ is. But what does the term actually mean?

According to Euro NCAP – the recognised crash safety standards body across Europe – it’s a lot more scientific than just how kind a car is to a person in a collision:

“A series of tests are carried out to replicate accidents involving child and adult pedestrians where impacts occur at 40kph (around 25mph).

“Impact sites are then assessed and rated fair, weak and poor. As with other tests, these are based on European Enhanced Vehicle-safety Committee guidelines.”

That’s the official line, but how does that translate to what happens in a crash with a pedestrian and how a new car is designed to minimise the impact?

There are four ‘impact zones’ on a car: these are where the lower and upper legs strike the bumper and bonnet respectively, as well as the areas where a child’s or and adult’s head would strike a car’s bonnet.

Deformation tests determine what areas of the car could be improved – for example, pedestrian protection can be bettered with more deformable plastic bumpers, and, increasingly, systems such as sprung bonnets.

This technology “pops up” a vehicle’s engine cover, allowing more space between the bonnet and engine. The panel is generally sprung and allows for a softer impact – with no hard engine block directly underneath, allowing extra room for the panel to deflect.

Even a few millimetres extra room here can help reduce serious head injuries.

The theory is simple: deformable areas work by slowing down a pedestrian’s impact with the car, reducing the unwelcome after affects.

The more you can cushion the blow – no matter what area of the car – the less damage will be inflicted to any area of the body. The principal is the same inside a car with inertia reel seatbelts and airbags.

Plastic and metal can be replaced. A human life can’t. This is the primary reason for the millions of pounds spent on research and development on crash safety in the automotive industry every year.

With Euro NCAP incorporating it into their tests as a standalone category in 2009, it shows the importance of pedestrian protection and just how far cars have come.

There’s more on the horizon too. Developments such as autonomous braking systems – helping to pre-empt a collision by applying a vehicle’s brakes if it senses an object in the road – should help reduce pedestrian injuries even further.

Pedestrian safety is a field that is now developing at a seriously rapid rate – and the benefits will be there for all, not just vehicle occupants. This can only be a good thing.