Beginning in 2012, manufacturers will be required to start phasing in rear-mounted video cameras on all cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs to reduce incidents of vehicles backing into a person behind them, under a new regulation issued this month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The regulations specify a minimum visibility area behind the vehicle—5 feet on either side of the vehicle’s centerline and 20 feet back from the bumper; it does not mandate the type of technology to be used to meet the requirement. The agency said that a rear-camera system is the only effective system because sensors and rear-mounted mirrors have been proven inadequate for detecting people behind a vehicle.
NHTSA noted that an overwhelming majority of back-over crashes—which cause an average 17,000 injuries and 228 deaths annually—involve caregivers striking small children in driveways and parking lots.
“Given the very young age of most of the children fatally injured in back-over crashes, attempting to provide them with training or with an audible warning would not enable them to protect themselves,” NHTSA said in announcing the proposed rule. The regulators concluded that “it is reasonable and necessary to rely on technology to address back-over crashes.”
Most major automakers have been using camera systems for years, but only in their high-end vehicles or when customers pay to have their vehicles retrofitted. The rule calls for a gradual phase-in of the requirement, starting in September 2012 and ending in September 2014, when 100 percent of the fleet must meet the standard.
Noting that technology is constantly evolving, NHTSA said it will consider other systems in the future if they prove to be effective, especially if they involve a combination of sensors and cameras. The agency is still accepting comments on whether there are alternative technologies that meet the objective at a lower cost. The rule will be finalized on February 28, 2011.
Child safety organizations have argued for a rear visibility standard for years, but it was only after Congress enacted the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act in 2007—named for a two-year-old accidentally killed when his father backed an SUV into the driveway—that NHTSA was forced to develop a regulation.
Janette Fennell, president of KidsandCars.org, said the new rule is “exciting” but long overdue.
“I find it remarkable that we’ve been driving cars for 100 years, and there’s never been a rear visibility standard. We wouldn’t buy a car if we couldn’t see 20 feet forward, but we buy them when we can’t see 20 feet behind,” she said. “These [accidents] happen because the people who love the kids the most can’t see them. It’s horrific.”