Is It A Good Idea To Mandate Back Up Cameras?

By James Baxter, NMA President

The Obama administration has decided that all passenger cars and busses, manufactured after 2014, must be equipped with back-up/rear-view cameras. They claim such cameras could halve fatalities and injuries caused in backing up accidents.

To meet the requirements of the proposed rule, ten percent of new vehicles must comply by Sept. 2012, 40 percent by Sept. 2013 and 100 percent by Sept. 2014. The cost is estimated to total two to three billion dollars a year. That comes to approximately $300,000 per prevented accident. This assumes there is some validity to the claim that 50 percent of the back-up accidents would be prevented by the cameras.

As is typical fashion for Congress, the underlying law that generated this proposed rule is named after a child that was run over by his father, clearly a personal tragedy. Still, I wonder about the “law of unintended consequences.”

  • Will drivers actually look at the screens?
  • Will drivers come to rely solely on the cameras and cease to visually scan for persons and obstacles in their path of travel?
  • Does the federal government have any serious evidence to back up its claims, or are these “back of the envelope” calculations that ignore human nature and the limitations of this technology?

After all, most crashes occur when a vehicle is moving forward and the struck object or person is clearly in view of the driver, so “not seeing” is seldom an issue.

NHTSA is providing a 60-day comment period on this rulemaking that begins when the proposal is published in the Federal Register. The proposal and information about how to submit comments is available here.

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