Study: Backup Cameras Reduce Blind Zone by 90%

A new study adds strong sup­port to a pro­posed rule that would require back­up cam­eras on new cars and trucks. It shows the cam­eras are far more effec­tive at spot­ting chil­dren and oth­er obsta­cles than less sophis­ti­cat­ed park­ing sen­sors – or dri­vers using their mir­rors.

Back­up cam­eras are already found on many of the lat­est cars, trucks and crossovers, but the Nation­al High­way Traf­fic Safe­ty Admin­is­tra­tion (NHTSA) has repeat­ed­ly delayed announc­ing for­mal rules that would make them manda­to­ry – some­thing Con­gress and Pres­i­dent Bush autho­rized in 2007. That’s despite NHTSA’s own esti­mate that the devices could save as many as 200 lives a year – includ­ing a large num­ber of chil­dren under the age of five – inad­ver­tent­ly run over when motorists back up.

“Right now, cam­eras appear to be the most promis­ing tech­nol­o­gy for address­ing this par­tic­u­lar­ly trag­ic type of crash, which fre­quent­ly claims the lives of young chil­dren in the dri­ve­ways of their own homes,” said David Zuby, exec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent and chief research offi­cer for the Insur­ance Insti­tute for High­way Safe­ty, which con­duct­ed

The IIHS had vol­un­teers check the effec­tive­ness of cam­eras in a series of tests con­duct­ed in an emp­ty Los Ange­les park­ing lot. They were com­pared to vehi­cles with­out warn­ing sys­tems, and those equipped with elec­tron­ic sen­sors that use sonar or radar to spot an obsta­cle, issu­ing beeps to warn motorists.

In one test, where researchers didn’t advise the test dri­vers what to look out for, every­one dri­ving a vehi­cle with­out cam­eras or back­up sen­sors hit a dum­my rep­re­sent­ing a child that had wan­dered behind their vehi­cle. Such “acci­dents” were cut in half when motorists were dri­ving a vehi­cle equipped with a cam­era. Park­ing sen­sors reduced the col­li­sion rate by a much more mod­est 6%.

As might seem intu­itive, dri­vers had the most prob­lem spot­ting obsta­cles – whether a pole or a “child” – while dri­ving some of the biggest vehi­cles on the road, such as a full-size pick­up or a big SUV, accord­ing to the IIHS, though the safe­ty group did praise the Ford F-150 for using espe­cial­ly large side mir­rors to help dri­vers get a bet­ter view around the vehi­cle.

But the push for more aero­dy­nam­ic design – which means such styling fea­tures as steeply sloped back win­dows and high trunk decks – has actu­al­ly reduced vis­i­bil­i­ty for many pas­sen­ger cars. The IIHS not­ed that the Hyundai Sonata actu­al­ly has a 42% larg­er “blind zone” when back­ing up than the Ford F-150.

On the oth­er hand, vehi­cles with back­up cam­eras reduced the blind zone, on aver­age, by 90%.

Accord­ing to NHTSA research, the using a cam­era could make a sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ence. The agency notes that about 292 peo­ple are killed each year in back­up acci­dents – includ­ing 100 chil­dren younger than five – with anoth­er 18,000 injuries. NHTSA esti­mates using cam­eras could reduce the death toll to between 95 and 112 peo­ple annu­al­ly, while also pre­vent­ing as many as 8,374 injuries.

That encour­aged Con­gress in 2007 to enact a law call­ing on fed­er­al reg­u­la­tors to set new vis­i­bil­i­ty require­ments, a bill signed by then-Pres­i­dent George W. Bush. But NHTSA missed the orig­i­nal Feb­ru­ary 2011 tar­get date and con­tin­ued to post­pone action until this past Jan­u­ary when it sent a pro­pos­al to the White House for review. It now expects to have the reg­u­la­tions final­ized by Jan­u­ary 2015, in time to actu­al­ly begin requir­ing the tech­nol­o­gy by avail­able for 2017 mod­el-year vehi­cles.

The move came months after the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion was sued by Dr. Greg Gul­bransen and Susan Auriem­ma – two par­ents who lost or injured their chil­dren in back­up acci­dents – Advo­cates for High­way and Auto Safe­ty, Kids And Cars Inc., and the non-prof­it Con­sumers Union, the pub­lish­er of influ­en­tial Con­sumer Reports mag­a­zine.

Hen­ry Jas­ny, senior vice pres­i­dent and gen­er­al coun­sel for Advo­cates for High­way and Auto Safe­ty, called NHTSA pro­pos­al “a pos­i­tive sign (of) progress,” but cau­tioned “the process is far from over.”

On the whole, automak­ers have been sup­port­ive on using back­up cam­eras in their vehi­cles – Hon­da, for exam­ple, already has laid out plans to equip all its vehi­cles sold in the U.S. But there had been ear­li­er con­cerns about the speed with which the devices would need to be acti­vat­ed, essen­tial­ly imme­di­ate­ly after a dri­ver shift­ed into reverse, accord­ing to NHTSA, which some man­u­fac­tur­ers had wor­ried they couldn’t accom­plish with­out more cost­ly sys­tems.

The indus­try is expect­ed to back the cur­rent NHTSA pro­pos­al.

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