Rearview Cameras on Most Cars Could Become Standard Equipment

Government proposes rules to make vehicles safer for drivers backing up.

December 3, 2010, 1:23 PM

Dec. 3, 2010 — -- The government proposed new rules today aimed at the rising concern about drivers unintentionally backing over children.

The Department of Transportation is offering new requirements to improve rear visibility in cars by the 2014 model year. Most carmakers would meet the requirements by installing rear-mounted video cameras and in-vehicle displays.

At least two children are killed every week when a car backs over them, and most of the time it's a family member behind the wheel.

In 2002, Dr. Greg Gulbransen, a Long Island pediatrician, accidentally ran over and killed his 2-year-old son Cameron.

"I rode right over him. I never saw him ... never had a chance of seeing him," he said.

The proposal announced today would improve rear visibility in cars and could help prevent tragedies, like the Gulbransens' story, from occurring.

The recommendation is mandated by the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act of 2007. Signed into law by President George W. Bush, it directs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to issue a standard for improving the ability of drivers to detect pedestrians in the area immediately behind their vehicles, and minimize the likelihood of a vehicle striking a pedestrian while reversing.

Click here to see where your car ranks on Consumer Reports' List of Best and Worst Rear Blind Zones.

"Everybody needs to understand that we cannot keep backing blind," Janette Fennell, the founder and president of Kids And Cars, a Kansas-based safety group, said. "Something needs to be done. This is not a small problem."

Most carmakers would comply with the new requirements by installing rear-mounted video cameras and in-car displays, systems that are currently found in several high-end models of vehicles. Only about 20 percent of 2010 vehicles have the cameras onboard.

"Any vehicle can be retrofitted with a camera and sensors, it doesn't matter what make or model. This technology is available," Fennell said.

According to Kids and Cars, 50 children are backed over every week in the United States and 48 of those children end up in hospital emergency rooms. Over 70 percent of the time, it is a direct family member who is responsible.

Dealing With the 'Bye-bye' Syndrome

Young children often chase after their parents as they leave the house for work in the mornings, Fennell said, putting them in danger of being accidentally struck by a vehicle backing up.

"We call this the 'bye-bye syndrome,' because kids see mom or dad leaving and they either don't want to be left behind or they want to give them one last kiss goodbye," she said. "Then, out of nowhere, these kids come running and they can see the car, they can see daddy, but unfortunately daddy can't see them."

In a blog post today, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said he is "proud that the DOT is taking this step to prevent backover deaths and injuries."

"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," LaHood said.

Fennell said the proposed regulations are cause to celebrate.

"We've been making automobiles for over a hundred years and just the idea that we don't have any standard whatsoever that says what you should be able to see when you're backing up is mind-boggling."

Consumer Reports ranks cars' rear blind zones, based on vehicle size and driver height. In the midsized SUV category, the average rear blind zone is 18 feet for a driver who is 5 feet 8 inches tall and 28 feet for a driver who is 5 feet 1 inch tall.

The 2004 Volkswagen Touareg and 2008 Land Rover Range Rover Sport rank number 1 for taller drivers, with an average blind zone of 11 feet, while the 2005 Nissan Pathfinder LE and the 2007 Mazda CX-7 are best for shorter drivers, with an average blind zone of 18 feet.

The 2009 Chevrolet Traverse without cameras and 2009 Ford Flex without cameras finish out at the bottom of the list in the midsized SUV category, with a blind zone of up to 35 feet for shorter drivers.

The in-vehicle camera technology, Fennell said, has gotten so good "that you can see better out of your camera than you can see out of your rearview mirror."

More and more people are accustomed to screens in their cars, according to Jeff Bartlett of Consumer Reports.

Small Cost, Big Benefit From Rearview Cameras

"People are looking for more connectivity," he said, with audio and navigation systems in their vehicles. "In the end, this will probably be fairly seamless to consumers. For the modest cost of adding this feature, there is a tremendous benefit."

The proposal is expected to be completed next year after a public comment period and all cars in the 2014 model year must include the camera systems. Under the plan, 10 percent of vehicles in a model fleet must meet the standards by 2010, and 40 percent in 2013.

The new rules would apply to all passenger cars, minivans, SUVs, pickup trucks, and other vehicles weighing up to 10,000 pounds. Objects would need to be visible in an area 20 feet behind the vehicle and about 5 feet to either side of the vehicle's center.

The government estimates the new requirements would cost about $1.9 billion to $2.7 billion -- adding about $200 to the cost of each new vehicle.

Though the rearview camera features will mean a higher price tag, "I expect the consumers aren't even going to notice the added cost to vehicles," Bartlett said. "Cars go up in price a little bit every year -- this is just going to fold into that and it will be offset in savings in other areas."

ABC News' Matt Hosford and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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