Once reserved for luxury cars constructed with every added bell and whistle, rear-view cameras will soon be a mandatory part of all new vehicles manufactured in the United States. In a final ruling from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced on March 31, the inclusion of rear-view visibility systems will be required by May 2018.
The decision was long-expected and a product of a 2008 transportation safety bill that was signed by then President George W. Bush. In the intervening six years, the Department of Transportation studied the issue and methodically refined proposals for a final rule on back-up video in cars.
In fact, safety advocates grew frustrated by the government’s delays and even filed a 2013 lawsuit to expedite the process, as it is widely believed this simple feature will prevent the tragic accidental deaths of children.
Exactly What Are Rear-view Cameras?
If still behind the wheel of an older vehicle like me, some drivers possess only a vague idea of what these devices do. Already installed in numerous cars that have been manufactured since 2010, display screens typically are mounted into center of the dashboard in a spot where the driver easily can see. Live video of the area immediately behind a car is presented and the camera is activated when the automobile moves into reverse.
As part of the NHTSA’s ruling, precise requirements were established for the construction and ability of these systems. Per those guidelines, all vehicles manufactured after May 1, 2018 must be equipped with cameras enabling drivers to view a 10-foot-wide by 20-foot-long zone immediately behind a car’s rear bumper. The ruling further mandates video appears within two seconds of entering reverse and that it remains on screen for at least four seconds once displayed.
The NHTSA also issued guidelines covering image size and deactivation of the screen. Makers of trucks, buses, and RV’s (under 10,000 pounds) additionally must comply with the rule. Such larger vehicles have already benefited significantly from the popularity of this new safety feature, as rear visibility is substantially more challenging when the distance to potential danger is greater.
Costs and Benefits of the NHTSA Ruling
While saving lives from the natural tendency of small children to dart behind vehicles is top concern, a wide array of benefits have followed the development of rear-view cameras. These devices greatly aid the always-tedious job of parallel parking. Indeed, an extra set of digital eyes makes using reverse much simpler, since mirrors notoriously present a distorted view of distance. Back-up video certainly helps those with bad backs or necks, for whom turning around within the confines of the driver’s seat can be a real struggle.
Yet, saving lives is the effort’s concern and very reason that the NHTSA has authority to enact such requirements on auto manufacturers. The agency cited an annual average of 210 deaths and 15,000 injuries in the United States alone from persons struck by cars in reverse. As expected, young children are most susceptible to such injury. An alarming 31-percent of these fatalities impact those 5-years old and younger. Kids are not the only risk; approximately 50 annual deaths from back-over accidents occur in those over 70-years old.
Though the inclusion of back-up video in cars does not guarantee these injuries cease, it is a strong tool to limit the danger. Citing driving statistics, the ruling even suggested between 58 to 69 lives will be saved per year. Small-government advocates may be alarmed with yet another mandate enacted upon industry by the federal government, but rapid gains in technology at least make it a limited expense.
With fees built into purchase price, the NHTSA estimates around 75-percent of new vehicles already will possess adequate rear-view visibility systems by 2018. Installing a complete system is expected to cost as little as $140, while adding a camera to a vehicle possessing a sufficient screen should run less than half of that amount.
Jeff Briscoe is an attorney and father of three children from Port Charlotte, Fla.