Every year, roughly 100 American children under age 5 die and about 2,000 are injured when vehicles back over them.
That danger soon may be minimized. In December 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed that most cars be equipped with backup camera systems. The proposal aims to help eliminate blind spots behind vehicles that can obscure the presence of bystanders, especially small children and the elderly.
“There is no more tragic accident than for a parent or caregiver to back out of a garage or driveway and kill or injure an undetected child playing behind the vehicle,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in announcing the backup camera proposal.
The proposal was required by Congress as part of the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act. The federal law is named for a 2-year-old boy who was killed when his father accidentally backed over him in the family's driveway.
In all, an average of 292 deaths and 18,000 injuries occur each year in the United States as a result of back-over crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Those numbers could be cut by as much as half if back-up camera systems become standard, the safety agency predicts.
Many of these back-over accidents are a result of a significant blind spot behind vehicles. On average, sedans have a rear blind spot of 12 feet. For minivans, that number increases to 13 feet. SUVs have a blind spot of 14 feet, and pickups top the list with an average blind spot of 30 feet.
Auto manufacturers say they're working with federal officials on the camera proposal.
Broadening the rear view
The proposed rule would expand the required rear view for all passenger cars, minivans, pickup trucks, buses, and low-speed vehicles weighing up to 10,000 pounds. This expanded view would allow drivers to see directly behind the vehicle when the transmission is in reverse.
To comply with the proposed mandate, auto manufacturers almost certainly will install video cameras on the back of vehicles, along with interior video displays. Ten percent of new vehicles must comply by September 2012. That number climbs to 40 percent by September 2013 and 100 percent by September 2014.
Ford Motor Co. says rear-view cameras will available on nearly all Ford and Lincoln models by the end of 2011. Jim Buczkowski, director of electrical and electronics systems engineering at Ford, says the automaker's research "shows that visibility is one of the biggest customer concerns today."
Some vehicles already have cameras installed, but they are used more for parking assistance than for safety, says Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Consumers interested in rear-view cameras for their cars do not need to wait for a new vehicle, though. Cameras can be purchased and installed in older vehicles.
A check on Amazon.com found that a backup camera and video monitor could be purchased together for roughly $70 and up.
Weighing costs and benefits
When seat belts initially were required, some balked at the idea, consumer advocate Christopher Elliott says. Just as seat belts now are the norm, rear-view cameras will become standard, Elliott says.
Installing cameras in vehicles may cause the price of a car to increase slightly, Newton says. When the federal government's final rule comes out -- Feb. 28, 2011, is the deadline -- auto manufacturers will have a better idea of what equipment they'll need to install and what price adjustments need to be made, he says.
In a year's worth of auto manufacturing, equipping a fleet of 16.6 million new vehicles with backup camera systems would cost $1.9 billion to $2.7 billion, according to an estimate from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Costs for a rear-view video system are estimated at $58 to $88 for a vehicle already equipped with a navigation system or another type of visual display, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and at $158 to $189 for a vehicle requiring a dashboard-mounted video monitor.
However, those costs could be offset by lower auto insurance premiums.
Auto insurers use a driver's claims history to set rates. If built-in cameras are found to reduce accident frequency and severity, that could lead to a reduction in insurance premiums, says Michael Barry, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute. Discounts may be offered to those who already have backup cameras, but only after a track record of safety has been established, Barry says.
Elliott, the consumer advocate, wholeheartedly embraces backup cameras. Several years ago, Elliott was backing his car out of the garage but didn’t see his daughter, who had gotten out of the house without his knowledge. Elliott came within inches of crushing her with his car.
“With a camera,” Elliott says, “I would have seen her.”
Putting safety first
Until backup cameras become mandatory, experts offer these tips on how to be a safer driver when you're in reverse:
- Walk around the back of the vehicle before hopping in, Elliott says. This will help you detect any people or objects that you may not have seen from the driver's seat.
- Use all of your vehicle's mirrors when backing up.
- Warn children of the dangers of playing around parked cars, and remind them to be aware of vehicles moving in reverse.
- Put all child passengers in your car before putting the key in the ignition.
- Make sure you know the location of family members who are not traveling with you before backing out of a driveway or garage.
--Rachel Hartman and