Ford will add night-time pedestrian detection to its new-generation UK-spec Fiesta model later this year and then roll the life-saving feature to other models through 2018.
The feature, which is an extension of Ford's radar and camera-sensing equipment used in adaptive cruise control and collision avoidance, is able to identify a human shape at night and then automatically brake the car if the driver does not respond to initial warnings.
Ford refined its pedestrian detection technology at night, putting life-sized dummies into the path of vehicles on closed tracks and testing it on public roads in cities including Paris and Amsterdam.
The pedestrian detection system is being incorporated into current Ford vehicles as part of a stepping-stone plan towards the company's move into autonomous vehicles.
Ford introduced the technology after commissioning a poll of UK and mainland European drivers about driving at night. It said that concerns about driving at night, and the fear of hitting a pedestrian in the dark, spurred it on to introduce the detection system.
The poll said that a fear of driving at night was reported by 81 per cent of the 5030 respondents from the UK, Spain, Germany, France and Italy. The figure for women was higher at 87 per cent.
More than half reported that poor night vision was a source of stress, and more than a third said they were very concerned about being involved in an accident.
One in five respondents said they feared they may hit a pedestrian at night.
UK data shows that in 2015 there were 408 pedestrian fatalities, equivalent to 24 per cent of all road fatalities. Of these deaths, 48 per cent occurred at night, between 6:00pm and 6:00am.
Ford's pedestrian detection processes information from a radar positioned in the bumper and a camera mounted at the top of the windscreen. The camera takes more than 30 images a second, making it faster than a cinema projector.
This information is fed to a database of 'pedestrian shapes' that allows it to distinguish people from objects such as trees and road signs. The system operates in low light situations but still relies on some light from the car's headlights.
If a collision with a pedestrian is imminent, the system first provides audible and visual warnings to the driver.
The system will automatically apply the brakes if the driver does not respond to these warnings.
Ford UK said the Ford Pedestrian Detection technology will be introduced later this year on the next-generation Fiesta. Ford Australia was not available to answer when the system would be included in the Australian cars.
Pedestrian detection is already incorporated into cars from manufacturers including Volvo, Subaru and Mercedes-Benz. Night-time detection is also available via infra-red cameras and radars in Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi models.