PhotoSo we have all these new backup cameras in cars, but we're still backing into people and things. Why?

The obvious answer is that we're not paying attention to the images in the cameras, or to our rear-view mirrors or, for that matter, the view over our shoulder. 

But federal safety offiicials would like to find a more scientific explanation. They're upset because the backup cameras were supposed to reduce the annual toll of deaths and injuries caused by so-called backover accidents. Such mishaps are often especially tragic because they tend to involve children, often the driver's children or grandchildren.

Modest results

The Washington Post recently reported that the number of new cars with backup cameras more than doubled between 2008 and 2011, partly because of a new federal rule. Yet the number of injuries from backover accidents fell by less than 10 percent during that time. 

The fatality rate dropped by 31 percent during those years, but the number of accidents increased, suggesting that cameras alone won't do the job. The same, of course, is true of all safety equipment; seat belts do no good if you don't wear them. 

Ninety-four percent of new cars being sold this year will be equipped with backup cameras, it's estimated, and all new cars will have them by 2018.

58 to 69 lives

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) expects 58 to 69 lives to be saved each year when all cars have the cameras. But the results from recent years suggest it may take more than simply adding cameras.

A recent NHTSA study suggests that, rather than ignoring the cameras, drivers may be focusing too much attention on the camera and ignoring their surroundings, including objects (like running dogs or children) approaching quickly from the side. 

Some experts speculate that automatic braking may have to be added to the safety arsenal -- providing a system that would stop the car whenever it detects either a stationary object or one closing at a speed that would put it in harm's way.

Until then, keep your neck nimble and glance over that shoulder now and then. You never know what you may see. 

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