After four years of delays, the U.S. Department of Transportation has announced that it will add rearview cameras to its list of recommended safety features. The announcement came as a consortium of individuals and safety advocates, including Kids and Cars Inc., Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, was preparing to file suit to force the Transportation Department to comply with a 2008 law requiring automakers to install rear-facing cameras, mirrors and sensors to improve visibility and help prevent accidents.
In a statement issued last week, Transportation Secretary Anthony R. Foxx said, “As we’ve seen with other features in the past, adding rearview video systems to our list of recommended safety features will encourage both automakers and consumers to consider more vehicles that offer this important technology. While adding this technology to our list of safety features is important, I remain committed to implementing the rear visibility rule as well.”
The department is recommending that rear-facing cameras cover a 10-foot by 20-foot area directly behind vehicles and that the images be visible within two seconds of a vehicle being put into reverse.
According to the Transportation Department accidents caused by from drivers’ limited visibility when backing up results in 18,000 injuries and 292 fatalities each year. Approximately 44 percent of those fatalities are children under the five years of age, and in 77 percent of those cases, a parent or close relative is behind the wheel.
The 2008 Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act required the transportation department to revise its safety guidelines to include technologies that would improve vehicles’ rear-facing visibility by 2011. But the department has delayed making a final ruling on four separate occasions, saying it needed more time to collect and review data.
Despite heel-dragging by the Transportation Department, data compiled by Edmunds.com shows that nearly 80 percent of model year 2013 vehicles sold in the U.S. offered rearview cameras as standard or optional safety features, up from only one percent a decade ago.
Still most automakers have left it to consumers to decide whether or not they want to pay the additional cost for backup cameras and other rear-facing safety devices.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers spokesman Wade Newton says, “Consumers today are very safety savvy, and they have much information online to help them choose.” Opponents say the mandate to require rearview mirrors will cost the auto industry $2.7 billion annually and raise the cost of the average vehicle by $160 to $200.