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Pedestrian & cyclist detection: How the roadway safety industry is walking the walk

Various initiatives and technology aiming to curb non-motorist fatalities and injuries nationwide

The detection of pedestrians and bicyclists is an important focal point for individuals in the roadway safety infrastructure industry. Nationally public agencies, manufacturers, suppliers, and research institutions are working to address the increasing frequency of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and injuries.

In fact, in 2018 pedestrian deaths were projected to climb to more than 6,000—the highest amount in several decades, according to a report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA). Recent reports place the total amount of traffic deaths at 37,133 in 2017, of which 6,988 were non-vehicle occupants, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Additionally, 783 bicyclists were killed in roadway crashes in 2017.

“There are a number of effective countermeasures that can be applied to U.S. roadways that can greatly increase the safety for both pedestrians and cyclists,” said ATSSA Senior Technical Advisor Eric Perry. “ATSSA has been, along with many other transportation agencies, monitoring the latest innovations that addresses this nationwide issue. Detection technologies have the potential to greatly decrease the number of fatalities and injuries that we are seeing.”

Photo courtesy of the Florida Department of TransportationPerry said one example of an agency making strides in pedestrian detection technologies is NHTSA, which is partnering with other industry leaders in the transportation and automotive industries to research and test systems that include detection and warning technologies for both motorists and non-motorists.

NHTSA is specifically looking into Pedestrian Crash Avoidance and Mitigation (PCAM) systems, which consist of vehicle sensors including radar, cameras, and lasers that apply automatic emergency brakes when a pedestrian is detected, while warning the driver.

According to ATSSA Director of New Programs Brian Watson, in addition to general research and partnerships aimed at gathering data on how detection systems can reduce pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and injuries, there are several efforts focusing on crash location. In 2017, the GHSA reported about 26 percent of pedestrian fatalities at intersections.

Watson said a recent ATSSA case study, “Traffic Control Device Innovations to Improve Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety at Signalized Intersections,” cites some example of how different cities are implementing detection systems to help curb non-motorist crashes at intersections.

“We found that in addition to the improvement of traffic control devices at intersections, the application of detection devices and systems are becoming more common, especially with the continued emergence of Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAVs),” Watson said. “By addressing this issue from both the roadway infrastructure side and the automotive side, we can greatly improve the safety for pedestrians and cyclists.”

According to the ATSSA case study, the City of Pasadena, California incorporated video-based bicycle detection system at certain intersections that adjust the crossing time if cyclists are present. Other detection methods include loop, which are sensors embedded into pavement, and microwave detection, which are small radar sensors that detect moving objects near the roadway. A similar system also exists in Minnesota.

“The emergence of pedestrian and bicyclist detection systems has allowed many transportation agencies, both nationally and internationally, to advance safety for all roadway users,” Watson said. “We are already reaping the benefits and it will be exciting to see what innovations lie ahead as automakers and the roadway safety industry and infrastructure members continue to work together.”

For more information on ATSSA’s case studies, visit

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