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Automatic braking systems don’t do their best at night : Roadshow

Automatic braking systems don't do their best at night : Roadshow

Q: It’s really amazing that so many people are so completely unaware of the dangers of not paying attention to traffic, especially at night.

The other night, when we were in the car and my wife was driving, she had to hit the brakes and was literally within inches of hitting a man on a bicycle at The Alameda.

That portion of The Alameda is dark and the cyclist was wearing dark clothing, no helmet, and had no lights or reflectors on his bike. He appeared suddenly, out of nowhere, on the left side of the street, and he drove very fast and crossed the street. He didn’t even look until he heard our car’s tires slip.

Thank goodness for my wife’s quick response. If there had been an accident at our speed of 40 mph, it could have been fatal to the cyclist.

Chuck Dougherty, San Jose

A: Here’s some troubling news about nighttime driving, which particularly affects pedestrians and cyclists: The number of pedestrian deaths has risen nearly 80 percent since its lowest level in 2009, with three-quarters of these deaths occurring at night.

While car brakes are generally effective at preventing accidents, recent research shows that this technology is not as effective in dark conditions. A key part of the problem is that many vehicles tested lacked headlights that detected pedestrians in time to avoid a collision.

To address the high rate of pedestrian accidents on dark roads, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently launched a nighttime test of automatic emergency braking systems (AEB) for pedestrians.