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New Rule Requiring Rearview Cameras in All Passenger Vehicles May Help Prevent Automobile Accident Injuries

Personal injuries or wrongful deaths that are caused as a result of car accidents are always tragic, especially when they could have easily been avoided. Some of the most tragic incidents of automobile accidents are when they involve children. According to KidsAndCars.org, a nonprofit group that pushed the government to begin tracking such tragedies, on average, two children die and about 50 are injured every week when someone accidentally backs over them in a vehicle.

As reported by The New York Times, federal regulators have finally decided to do something about at least some of the senseless deaths and injuries caused by automobile accidents. Federal regulators plan to announce that automakers will be required to put rear-view cameras in all passenger vehicles by 2014 to help drivers see what is behind them. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (N.H.T.S.A.), which proposed the mandate in late 2010, is expected to send a final version of the rule to Congress very soon.

Cars are filled with safety features that have been mandated by government regulators over the years, including air bags. But, the rearview camera requirement is one of the biggest steps taken to protect people outside of a vehicle. Regarding the matter, Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington stated, “We haven’t done anything else to protect pedestrians. This is one thing we can do and should do.”

A spokeswoman for the highway traffic safety agency declined to make a comment to The New York Times before the new rule was announced. However, in a preliminary version circulated for public comment, regulators predicted that adding the cameras and viewing screens will cost the auto industry as much as $2.7 billion a year, or $160 to $200 a vehicle.

According to The New York Times, although at least some of the cost is expected to be passed on to consumers through higher prices, regulators say that 95 to 112 deaths and as many as 8,374 injuries could be avoided each year by eliminating the wide blind spot behind a vehicle. Government statistics indicate that 228 people of all ages, 44 percent of whom are under age 5, die every year in back-over accidents involving passenger vehicles. About 17,000 people a year are injured in such accidents.

The new requirement stems from a 2008 law, the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act, named for a 2-year-old boy who died in 2002 when his pediatrician father was backing a sport utility vehicle into their driveway. The law required the N.H.T.S.A. to set standards for rear visibility, which had never been regulated. In urging Congress to help reduce back-over injuries, KidsAndCars created a public-service announcement showing that 62 children could fit behind a large S.U.V. without being visible to the driver in any of the mirrors.

According to Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing at Edmunds.com, “Over time, the beltlines have risen, and the glass has gotten a little smaller in the interest of safety. There’s certainly been a lot of attention paid to safety, but visibility hasn’t necessarily been lumped in the same way.” Edmunds now measures the size of the blind spot behind each new vehicle, based on how far back the driver can see a mannequin designed to resemble a small child. Although many back-over incidents involve S.U.V.’s and trucks, Mr. Edmunds said some of the biggest blind spots are on passenger cars where the trunk has a high deck lid and the driver sits low to the ground.

As reported by The New York Times, Automakers have generally supported the requirement, while some took issue with technical aspects of the proposal and the added cost. “We’ve had longstanding support for efforts to increase the field of view for these vehicles,” said Wade Newton, of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Meanwhile, in anticipation of the 2014 mandate, automakers have been designing models with camera systems in mind. Instead of including a camera in a $2,000 navigation package, many have made it standard or a stand-alone option for a few hundred dollars.

Regulators studied other ways of improving rear visibility, including the beeping radar-based sensors that many vehicles already offer. But they determined that the sensors often did not detect moving people, especially children. Drivers also responded better to the camera image than the audio alerts, they said. “Video camera-based systems are by far the most comprehensive and cost-effective currently available solution for reducing back-over crashes, fatalities and injuries,” the N.H.T.S.A. said.

As a Georgia car accident attorney who has seen the tragedy caused by the loss or personal injury of a loved one as a result of an automobile accident, I am glad to see U.S. regulators seek to make our automobiles safer.