Pedestrians in a crosswalk as a car moves forward.

When I was a kid riding in the front seat of my parents’ blue station wagon—with its vinyl seats, manual windows, and three brothers and a dog in the back—I never could have imagined just how far cars would come in the years ahead. My brothers and I would have marveled at heated seats, rearview cameras, and windows that didn’t require a crank to roll up and down! Thanks to technology, marketplace competition, and the voices of consumers, everything about cars has gotten better over time . . . but nowhere has that been more pronounced than in the area of safety.

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Recently, however, technology has begun to cut both ways. Car safety featureshave become more sophisticated and effective, but the number of pedestrians hit by vehicles has risen at a startling rate in recent years. Many factors are at play—but we all know that smartphones have a big impact. We see it when we’re on the road and a fellow driver is focused on his phone screen, or when someone crossing the street is doing the now familiar “walk and read.” Research shows that a new innovation could make us all safer: pedestrian-detection systems that slow cars down even if a driver fails to notice that someone is in her path. About one-third of all new cars have this timely technology, and—just as we once advocated for airbags, antilock brakes, and rearview cameras—we’ve changed our auto ratings to reward automakers that are making safety features such as pedestrian detection standard in their vehicles. By doing so, we hope to encourage companies to give every family access to the latest lifesaving technology—because safety should never be a luxury item.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the April 2019 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.