It's been five years since Congress passed a law requiring back-up cameras on cars, hoping to prevent the "backover" accidents that kill more than 100 people, many of them children, each year.
Nothing much has happened since then, as the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) mulls over how the rules governing the cameras should be written.
Tired of waiting, safety advocates and two parents who unintentionally hit their children when backing up filed suit yesterday, asking the court to order DOT to promptly issue the rules.
DOT has estimated that the rule it proposed in 2010 but failed to finalize would have prevented 95 to 112 deaths and 7,072 to 8,374 injuries each year. When it passed the legislation, Congress set a deadline of 2011 but the Obama Administration has repeatedly delayed action and has now postponed the rule until 2015.
The problem is rather simple: Even drivers who carefully use all three mirrors cannot see a blind zone several feet high directly behind their vehicles.
Forty-four percent of those killed in backover incidents are children under 5 years old. Each week, on average, 50 children are injured, two fatally, by backover crashes. Tragically, the drivers are often the children's parents or grandparents.
Speaking at the April rally, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) recalled that while it was a struggle to get the bill passed, he had expected that it would be put into effect quickly.
“It was hard enough getting the bill passed” he said. “Then we thought it was going to be a matter of days, weeks, months for the standards and rules to be put into effect. Now it’s five years later and it still has not gotten done.”
Why the delay? Cost appears to be the major reason. Car manufacturers have been complaining that the devices are too expensive. A recent analysis of the rule's cost pegged it at $2.7 billion, which works out to about $18 million per life saved.
But safety advocates say the cost is minimal compared to all the other gadgets and effluvia being added to cars -- satellite radios, onboard wi-fi and automatic parking among them.
“If there was a camera on my car [my daughter] wouldn’t have died,” said Ellen Adams, who spoke at an April rally urging action on the backover rule in June. On September 9, 2003, Adams' husband accidentally backed over their one-year-old daughter Ashleigh when she wandered behind his car as he backed out of the family driveway.
“I don’t want anyone else to go through what we went through and the numbers are rising. There are 50 a week injured and two die a week," she said.