White House Finalizes Long-Overdue Rule to Prevent Kids from Being Hurt, Killed in Back-Over Accidents

by Katie Weatherford, 4/2/2014

UPDATE (3/31/14): NHTSA today issued a final rule requiring rear visibility technology in all new passenger vehicles and light truck and buses under 10,000 pounds by May 2018 to reduce the risk of death and serious injuries caused by backover accidents.

The rule requires that the new vehicles come equipped with rear visibility technology that expands the field of view directly behind the vehicle to include a 10-foot by 20-foot zone that enable the driver to detect areas behind the vehicle. The system must also meet other requirements including image size, linger time, response time, durability, and deactivation.

On average, there are 210 fatalities and 15,000 injuries each year caused by backover crashes. NHTSA has found that children under 5 years old account for 31 percent of backover deaths each year, and adults 70 years of age and older account for 26 percent of deaths. Including vehicles that already have systems installed, NHTSA estimates that 58 to 69 lives are expected to be saved each year once the entire on-road vehicle fleet is equipped with rear visibility systems meeting the requirements of today's final rule.

. . .

Every week in the United States, 50 children under the age of 15 are injured or killed as a result of back-over collisions involving cars and trucks. These tragic accidents occur because most vehicles lack the proper equipment to allow a driver to see people or objects located directly behind the car or truck. Yesterday, the Obama administration decided to hold off on finalizing a rule that would require car manufacturers to install rear-view cameras in new automobiles. The delay until January 2015 means that during the next 18 months, thousands more children will be injured or killed. 

Rear-view cameras would reduce the blind zone behind a vehicle and allow a driver to see much more of what is, or hopefully is not, behind a car when backing up, as illustrated in the graphic below:

The decision to postpone the rule until 2015 is not the first time this rule has been delayed. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at the Department of Transportation began developing its Rear Visibility rule in 2009 after Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed legislation mandating that the agency issue a standard that would require manufacturers to install rear-view cameras in vehicles. Although the law set a deadline of February 2011 for the rule to be finalized, the draft of the final rule was not completed until November 2011 and has been stuck in review at the White House ever since. 

Public interest advocates and a prominent senator do not support the decision. The delay comes only a week after the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards released a report that lists the Rear Visibility rule as one of eight standards that the administration should finalize right away. The coalition's co-chairs, Katherine McFate of the Center for Effective Government and Robert Weissman of Public Citizen, issued a statement opposing the decision to delay the rule.  Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) also criticized the delay and urged the Obama administration to move forward with the rule.

Rear-view camera technology already exists, but unfortunately, until this technology becomes standard for new automobiles, completely avoidable back-over collisions, injuries, and deaths will continue to happen.

UPDATE: On Sept. 25, 2013, public interest groups, joined by two parents, filed suit against the Department of Transportation (DOT) for the agency’s unreasonable delay in finalizing a rule that would require improved rear visibility in new cars. Although the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act required DOT to finalize a rule by 2011, the agency has delayed the rulemaking multiple times, most recently withdrawing it from review at the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB’s) Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) and pushing the deadline to January 2015. 

The two parents filing suit know firsthand the tragedy of unintentionally backing over their child. Susan Auriemma hit and injured her three-year old daughter, Kate. Dr. Greg Gulbransen hit and killed his two-year old son, Cameron. Both accidents happened when the parents were backing up in their driveways despite taking all available precautions. These parents, along with Consumers Union of the United States, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and Kids and Cars., Inc., (all represented by Public Citizen) argued in the petition that the agency’s unreasonable delay in finalizing the rule violates the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and have asked the court to order DOT to move forward with the rule within 90 days to prevent unnecessary injuries and deaths resulting from back-over accidents.

UPDATE (03/25/14): Today marks 90 days since NHTSA submitted a draft final rule to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) for review on Dec. 25, 2013. Under Executive Order 12866, OIRA review is limited to 90 days with a possible 30-day extension, meaning that the rule should clear OIRA no later than April 24. However, rules are routinely delayed at OIRA for more than 120 days with no explanation. In June 2013, NHTSA withdrew an earlier version of the rule that had been stuck under review at OIRA for over a year and announced that it did not expect to finalize the rule until January 2015. Although NHTSA is moving forward with this rule, the agency has not announced any plans to finalize the rule ahead of schedule.

Editor's Note: This post was originally published on June 21, 2013 and has been updated several times to reflect progress on the rule.

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The cost-benefit analysis for the rule is very informative, but it is not mentioned in the article.

If society had unlimited resources, this rule and many others could be finalized tomorrow, and our collective lives would be better. Resources are limited, however, and try as we might, there is no free lunch. Perhaps the best possible outcome would be to advance technology so rear view cameras are less expensive.

I don't think the issue is as clear-cut as you make it out to be. Less than 100 people die from backup-related accidents per year, but this legislation will be very expensive and it's doubtful it will make a significant difference to that number. Plus, these cameras have issues when the sun is at a low angle. Check out this article for a challenging view:

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/120275-backup-cameras-destined-for-failure-automakers-opt-for-cheap-low-tech-mirrors

Thank you Katie for a great article.

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