Six years after Congress ordered it to do so, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) today issued a rule that will require new cars and light trucks to have backup cameras to help prevent accidents in which drivers accidentally back over pedestrians, most often children.
Continuing the plodding pace for which the government is famous, the rule won't go fully into effect until 2018. The rule was issued just one day before the Obama Administration was scheduled to defend itself in federal court against a lawsuit brought by Public Citizen on behalf of safety advocates who were outraged over the delay.
The law, named after Cameron Gulbransen, who was killed in such a crash at age 2, was passed in 2008 and instructed DOT to implement it by 2010. DOT proposed regulations on time but the Obama Administration unaccountably delayed implenting them.
"While the administration delayed the rule, more children died in backover accidents. The cost of regulatory delay, in human lives, could hardly be more clear than it is today. It's absurd that the government had to be sued before it would comply with the law," said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, said.
A long fight
“It’s been a long fight, and this rule took too long, but we’re thrilled this day has finally come," said Dr. Greg Gulbransen, Cameron's father. "It’s a bittersweet day, because this rule should have been in place three years ago at the latest. But this rule will save lives. Though his own life was short, Cameron inspired a regulation that will save the lives of countless others.”
Each year, according to DOT, more than 200 individuals are killed and 15,000 injured in “backover” crashes. Drivers using all three mirrors cannot see anything in a blind zone 10-40 feet long directly behind their vehicles.
Over half of those killed in backover accidents are children under 5 or adults 70 or older, DOT’s analysis shows. The new rule will set a standard for rear visibility that effectively requires rearview cameras in new vehicles under 10,000 pounds (excluding motorcycles) by 2018.
"This is the first federal regulation of rear visibility in our nation's history," said Janette Fennell, president of KidsAndCars.org. "It's about time the motoring public will finally be able to see what's behind their vehicles while backing up. This measure will most definitely save children's lives."
All deliberate speed
Backup cameras are hardly new, unproven technology. They are already included in many luxury cars and high-end trim packages. Even the Honda Civic, an economy car, includes a backup cameras as standard equipment.
Using the double talk that passes as dialogue in Washington, automakers said they think the cameras are great but don't think they should be required.
“These are exciting new innovations, but we know our customers have their own preferences among new technologies,” said the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in a prepared statement. “It is one of our core beliefs that consumers should be in the driver’s seat when choosing which technologies they want to purchase.”
Of course, that doesn't stop automakers from bundling backup cameras with navigation systems, high-end audio systems, mirror warmers and other geegaws that force consumers to spend hundreds or thousands more than they would if accessories were offered a la carte.
Two-thirds of 50 top-selling vehicles in the U.S. already offered backup cameras, the manufacturers said proudly.
DOT has estimated that a full backup system -- camera, display screen and a few feet of wire -- will cost about $132 to $142 per car by 2018. For cars that already have a suitable display screen, the additional cost per vehicle would be $43 to $45, the agency said.