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Looking backwards – saving lives

John Day

John Day

Posted Dec 14, 2010

Four years from now, if the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has its way, every new car sold in the U.S. will include technology to let drivers see what – or who – is behind them when the vehicle’s transmission is in reverse. That’s government acting responsibly to save lives, or another assault on my individual freedom, depending on your perspective.

NHTSA’s proposed rule was required by Congress as part of the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act of 2007. Two-year-old Cameron Gulbransen, for whom the Act is named, was killed when his father accidentally backed over him in the family’s driveway. NHTSA estimates that children under 5 years old account for 44% of backover fatalities involving passenger vehicles and adults 70 years and older account for 33%.

NHTSA says that in the near term, the only technology suited for compliance with its proposed rule includes a rear-mounted video camera and an in-vehicle visual display. NHTSA estimates that the incremental cost of equipping a new vehicle fleet with such systems will be somewhere between $1.9 billion and $2.7 billion.

I haven’t noticed much reaction to NHTSA’s proposal from automakers or equipment suppliers. On the day the proposed rule was announced, Ford said it expects to complete the roll-out of its Rear View Camera System on nearly all Ford and Lincoln models by the end of 2011.

Jim Buczkowski, Ford’s director of electrical and electronics systems engineering, said visibility is one of the biggest customer concerns today. Ford offers a Rear View Camera System, Blind Spot Mirrors, and a radar-based Blind Spot Information System with Cross Traffic system, but it’s certainly not the only automaker offering a rear-view system, and back-up cameras are readily available in the aftermarket.

Is a rear-view mandate necessary and how should its effectiveness be measured? NHTSA estimates that its rule will save as many as 112 lives per-year and prevent more than 7,000 injuries each year. Mandating cameras and display screens will increase volume and potentially lower costs. Suppliers and automakers will want to leverage the rear-view camera systems they deploy for additional applications, some of which may also contribute to safety.

Few of us can imagine themselves backing over a child, yet it happens. Rear-view cameras cannot eliminate all backover possibilities because a display will only work if a driver looks at it, but improving visibility is a positive step.

Rear-View Camera, NHTSA, Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act, cross traffic system, backover fatalities, Lincoln, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Ford, Jim Buczkowski

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John DayJohn Day recently launched John Day’s Automotive Electronics News ( to provide news and feature coverage of the automotive electronics industry. Earlier he wrote for Auto Electronics magazine, Auto E-lectronics, EE Times, and other business and engineering publications. Visit John Day

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