Vehicle back up cameras are not new technology, and there is no dispute that having one installed on your car is the best way to avoid backup collisions and deadly accidents involving children and the elderly. What is new is the mounting pressure by car-safety advocates and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) to push through regulations that will make these backup cameras a standard safety feature for all automobiles in the near future. There is also a good possibility that statistical feedback from cars equipped with these cameras will initiate more affordable car insurance.
The first attempts to make backup cameras standard safety equipment began in 2007 with the Cameron Gulbrandsen Kids Transportation Safety Act. The act was endorsed by congress in 2008 and the bill passed the House and the Senate unanimously, and was signed into law by President George W. Bush. This act required the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue regulations of safety standards on backup cameras, and to do it within three years. Obviously, that didn’t happen, as the DOT kept granting itself extensions, delaying a final ruling until January 2015. This would mean that automakers would have an even longer amount of time before making the changes, pushing out to at least 2017 to even begin. 10 years from the first request by Dr. Greg Gulbransen, who in 2002 accidently killed his own 2 year old son as he was backing out of his driveway. The area directly behind your vehicle has been called a “killing zone” for a reason. In 2010 a NHTSA report showed that 210 people die every year from backup incidents. 31% of those deaths are children under the age of 5, and 26% are adults over the age of 70.
Finally, in 2013 consumer advocates petitioned the Second Circuit Court of Appeals demanding the regulations be implemented within 90 days. In the meantime, as many as 500 children could have been saved. On March 31 2014 the NHTSA ruled that all new cars must be equipped with back-up cameras by May, 2018. The final ruling stipulates very specific standards for rear-visibility cameras, requiring the field of view include a 10 by 20 foot zone directly behind the vehicle. There are also other requirements like image quality, linger time, response time, durability and deactivation.
Why has it taken so long to implement a simple safety device that saves lives? Although the answer to this question is only more questions, it does appear as if the most resistance has come from the auto industry. Manufactures claim that adding a backup camera adds $100 to $200 to the cost of a vehicle, and that this increase would prevent consumers from buying. If that seems like a lame excuse, it’s because it is. Manufactures use a cost-benefit analysis chart, comparing the NHTSA estimate of 95 to 112 lives lost annually to their costs, concluding it is not significant enough. Bean counters, gotta love em. On the other hand, some car manufactures do want to appeal to the consumer as being one of the good guys, and so rear-view cameras have been more of a priority to some auto makers.
As of May 2016, 94% of model 2016 cars for sale in the United States offer at least an optional backup camera, according to Cars.com data. The federal government has mandated that all model-year 2019 cars must have a standard backup camera that provides a clear display of the 10-20 foot area behind a vehicle. Hopefully, that will end the delays in the inclusion of the camera, and eliminate the “kill zone.” Let’s hope is succeeds in making the camera an ordinary piece of equipment, in the same way that parking breaks and hazard lights are familiar and expected.
Even though the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that backup cameras can reduce blind spots by up to 90%, most insurance companies today don’t provide discounts for having them installed. This is mainly due to the fact that there is not enough data yet for insurance actuaries to make any conclusions. They need large numbers of vehicles with and without the systems, in order to determine if the cameras make a big enough difference to pass on a discount that will help the consumer save on car insurance. However, if fewer claims are received from cars with the cameras simply because they have fewer accidents, then that will have a favorable effect on affordable car insurance.
There is no need to wait though, and you don’t have to buy a new car to get a backup camera. There are many retailers selling aftermarket systems for less than $15 for a bottom line stand alone camera. Even a complete setup with more advanced displays is only about $300. Taking the initiative to install your own camera can be a very proactive step on your part. As a consumer, your requests and preferences will help point the industry in the right direction toward saving more lives.