Automakers work to reduce injuries, deaths; only VW and Honda will bring efforts to U.S. David Shepardson - Detroit News Detroit News – April 5, 2006 Honda conducts pedestrian safety research with the POLAR II dummy, focusing on reducing the threat of head injuries to pedestrians. DETROIT - Prodded by new regulations in Europe and Japan, automakers are stepping up research to reduce the number of pedestrians killed or injured when hit by vehicles. But little of that technology is likely to make it to the United States, which does not have similar regulations. Because of the new regulations, newly designed cars in Europe have bumpers that give and redesigned components such as windshield wipers to lessen the impact of a head-on collision. Volkswagen AG even changed the material on the hoods on two vehicles to aluminum to comply with the new rules. But with the exception of VW and Honda Motor Co., automakers' improvements to reduce the effects of pedestrian accidents are not being introduced in the United States - in large measure because there is no legal requirement to do so and automakers don't think it's a big problem. Honda has extensively researched a "Nighttime Pedestrian Recognition Assistance System." Its findings were unveiled this week at the Society of Automotive Engineers World Congress in Detroit. Honda's concept system includes an infrared camera that can spot pedestrians before drivers can and alert them on the dash in time to avoid a collision. The system is not on any vehicles. Honda spokesman Stephen Keeney said the company has focused on reducing the threat of head injuries to pedestrians, by including a wiper system and other hood features that give way to soften a pedestrian's blow. "This is really what we call Honda's philosophy of safety for everyone. Safety for passengers and safety for pedestrians, as well," Keeney said. In Europe, new cars get pedestrian safety ratings - similar to crash test or rollover ratings here. European regulators are debating whether to require additional safety features that are now under development, such as external air bags - which would deploy to reduce injuries to pedestrians in a planned second phase of the regulations. Pedestrians account for a higher percentage of traffic fatalities in Europe and Japan than in the United States, in part because of denser populations. In Japan, 30 percent of traffic fatalities are pedestrians. Pedestrian deaths are a far more serious problem around the world, especially in the developing world. In a year, nearly 800,000 pedestrians are killed worldwide by cars - 65 percent of all traffic deaths, a 2004 World Bank study reported. In the United States, 4,641 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents in 2004 - about 11 percent of all traffic fatalities - and more than 70,000 pedestrians were injured. Rae Tyson, a spokesman for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, said the United States is part of an international group that wants to create one requirement, so automakers don't have to build different cars for different countries. Pedestrian safety is "one of the highest priorities" of the working group, Tyson said. American companies that sell vehicles in Europe and Japan are adjusting to the new requirements. Alan Adler, a General Motors Corp. spokesman, said the company is complying with European regulations, but has no plans to introduce the features in the United States. GM says the new regulations are profoundly affecting front-end design in Europe. The Opel Zafira II, a GM-made minivan in Europe and one of the top-selling in its class, was extensively redesigned. The new minivan has a "soft nose design," and a lighter-weight hood and a new bumper spoiler reduce knee bending in the event of a crash. GM engineers noted in a report released late last year that it's difficult to comply with the new regulations, and still pass insurance tests that require bumpers to maintain their shape. Ford Motor Co. has done extensive research on pedestrian safety, too. In August 2001, Ford, as part of its "Cleaner, Safer, Sooner" campaign, introduced a concept Ford Explorer that featured external air bags. "A next step in vehicle safety could be applying this life-saving research outside the vehicle," Ford said at the time. But more than four years later, Ford said its research continues, and it hasn't decided whether to add the system to its vehicles. One SAE study noted that Jaguar and Ford have recently obtained 17 patents for pedestrian safety - the most of any auto company. The 2007 Jaguar XK will include a "pedestrian deployable hood system" that automatically pops up by several inches to lessen the impact when a pedestrian's head hits the hood. Only the European version includes the new safety feature. Srini Sundararajan, a Ford technicial safety leader, said the company is researching several pedestrian safety systems. One problem with the external air bag is it could affect driver vision.