The National Academies

NCHRP 20-102(33) [Anticipated]

Safety of Vulnerable Road Users in a C/AV Future
[ NCHRP 20-102 (Impacts of Connected Vehicles and Automated Vehicles on State and Local Transportation Agencies--Task-Order Support) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $150,000
Staff Responsibility: Leslie Harwood
Fiscal Year: 2020

This project has been tentatively selected and a project statement (request for proposals) is expected to be available on this website. The problem statement below will be the starting point for a panel of experts to develop the project statement.

One of the most compelling arguments for a C/AV future is the promise of safety improvements and reduction of motor vehicle crash related fatalities and serious injuries. Particularly, out of the recent estimates of 35,000 to 40,000 traffic fatalities every year, more than one-third of the fatalities occur “outside the vehicle,” which includes motorcyclists, pedestrians, and bicyclists. For example, the fatal pedestrian crash in 2018 between the self-driving SUV operated by Uber highlighted that self-driving cars are currently not infallible; AVs frequently misidentify or are blind to objects and humans in the road and make wrong decisions on whether to stop or keep driving in response.


Pedestrians, cyclists, and other vulnerable road users (VRUs) are most at risk of injury or death when interacting with vehicles, particularly as drivers are driving faster, in heavier vehicles, and distracted. Connectivity is expected to improve safety for VRUs, but at the responsibility of the VRU to remain constantly “connected” through technology. However, it is not possible, nor equitable, to assume that every pedestrian or cyclist will be carrying a connected device at all times. This project will explore how VRUs could be protected by C/AV and infrastructure technologies in the absence of user-carried smartphone or wearables (e.g., audio, external vehicle displays).


Task Outline:


The research team will explore and summarize types of on-vehicle and on-street technologies that help protect pedestrians, cyclists and other VRUs sharing the road with C/AVs. These technologies may involve:

·         Detection technologies (e.g., LIDAR and machine vision)

·         Communication methods (e.g., ways for the vehicle to indicate to pedestrians/cyclists to “go ahead” and other ways to replicate current human-to-human communication on the road; auditory or visual cues originating from the vehicle)

·         Infrastructure technologies (e.g., enhanced traffic signal or other roadside unit technologies)

·         Infrastructure design (e.g., designing C/AV roadways and parking locations to prevent harmful interactions with pedestrians and bicyclists, such as prevention of “dooring”)


The research team will do a literature review of existing technologies and conduct interviews with experts (e.g., researchers and C/AV OEMs) to provide a summary of the current state of the art technologies and future technologies currently being explored on vehicles and outside of vehicles to address safety of VRUs. Then, the team will identify the following for each technology:

·         Feasibility;

·         Likely effectiveness in prevention of injury and death;

·         Any barriers to implementing this technology;

·         Policy or legislative requirements for implementing this technology; and

·         The cost-benefit estimate of implementing the technology.


Finally, this assessment will also provide recommendations for prioritization of technologies to be implemented by OEMs or by local/state/federal agencies such that they are provided a plan of action towards implementation of testing and pilot projects to demonstrate feasibility of technologies.



·         Draft white paper with summary of technologies

·         Draft white paper with summary of technologies, analysis, and recommendations

·         Final white paper guidance on future activities for research, development, policy, and planning

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