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We undertook a study to determine if the automatic detection and counting of vehicle occupants is feasible. In the present paper, we report our findings regarding the appropriate sensor phenomenology and arrangement for the task. We propose a novel system based on fusion of near-infrared imaging signals and demonstrate its adequacy with theoretical and experimental arguments. We also propose a fuzzy neural network classifier to operate upon the fused near-infrared imagery and perform the occupant detection and counting function. We demonstrate experimentally that the combination of fused near-infrared phenomenology and fuzzy neural classification produces a robust solution to the problem of automatic vehicle occupant counting. We substantiate our argument by providing comparative experimental results for vehicle occupant counters based on visible, single near-infrared, and fused near-infrared bands. Our proposed solution can find a more general applicability as the basis for a reliable face detector both indoors and outdoors.