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Car crashes involving pedestrians are among the most devastating motor vehicle collisions here in New York. This is, of course, because pedestrians have few defenses to protect themselves from injuries; pedestrian accidents often leave pedestrians with catastrophic if not fatal injuries. It became international news in mid-August when apparent road rage led a cabbie to jump a curb in midtown, running over the foot of a tourist.

She survived, but underwent a leg amputation. The young woman has a long road ahead of her, as amputations often lead to permanent disability and pain and suffering, as well as high medical and rehabilitative costs.

While it has been reported that an argument between the taxi driver and a bicyclist caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle, distraction is one of the primary causes of car vs. pedestrian accidents.

Distraction is caused not only by cellphone use, but also the general daydreaming and inattentiveness of both drivers and pedestrians.

When negligent driving leads to pedestrian injuries, drivers can be held liable and/or criminally responsible. Automakers, however, are stepping in to take over some of the duties of safe driving.

Honda researchers are currently testing out computer chips that are embedded in vehicles, motorcycles and cellphones with the aim of preventing collisions. The chips track whether a pedestrian or vehicle is on a collision course, and alert drivers and pedestrians to the danger.

For example, if a pedestrian is nearing an intersection, the chip in the pedestrian’s phone will talk to software in nearby vehicles. A screen in an approaching vehicle will flash and warn the driver to brake if the pedestrian is crossing. If the driver fails to brake, the car will brake on its own. The technology will work similarly for cars and motorcycles that are nearing a potential collision.

The technology is currently being piloted in Ann Arbor.

Honda is not the only automaker that is investing in autonomous car accident prevention. While the technological developments are interesting, some critics have expressed concern that such features might encourage lazy and distracted driving as drivers become dependent on cars to avoid accidents. Additionally, if these safety systems do materialize, new liability questions may arise when car accidents do occur. If a Honda crashes into a pedestrian in an intersection, who is responsible for failing to brake – the driver or the automaker?

Source: Detroit Free Press, “Honda shows safety technology that links cars, motorcycles, pedestrians,” Alisa Priddle, Aug. 28, 2013

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