As thousands of passenger vehicles roll off the assembly line this month destined for the U.S. market, each of them will be equipped with backup cameras — the result of a long-awaited federal rule that went into effect this month.
The technology — already standard in many vehicles — is expected to further reduce the number of injuries and fatalities caused by so-called backover crashes.
An estimated 210 people die and 15,000 are injured each year because of backover crashes, federal data show. Children younger than 5 account for 31 percent of backover deaths each year, and adults 70 and older account for 26 percent.
“This technology helps drivers see behind the vehicle, which … will help save lives and prevent injuries,” Heidi King, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration deputy administrator, said in a statement.
However, safety advocates had at best mixed feelings over the mandate, arguing that the rule was years in the making and the auto industry should be required to do more to protect drivers and their families.
“It took a long time, and sadly, along that journey, we had more families joining us in our fight because they had lost their children while knowing there is this preventable technology,” said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, which helped lead the campaign for the change. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Under the rule, all cars, buses and trucks under 10,000 pounds manufactured or made to sell in the United States are required to have rearview video systems as standard equipment. The field of view must include a 10-foot by 20-foot zone directly behind the vehicle.
In response to the federal requirement, Ford standardized rearview cameras for all cars and trucks under 10,000 pounds in November. Nissan and Toyota both are in compliance with the rule as well.
Automakers started rolling out the rearview technology in the early 2000s, but it was largely only available in more expensive models and trim levels. Since that time, it has become increasingly more common and advanced, with some manufacturers offering a birds-eye view outside the vehicle.
Chase noted that many families couldn’t previously afford the trim levels of vehicles that came with backup cameras.
The federal regulation addresses that disparity.
“It is a tremendous safety victory,” Chase said. “It means that a family will not lose their little baby because this camera alerted them that the baby ran behind the car. How can you put a price tag on that? It’s just comforting to know when people are going to buy cars now that they have this safety feature, and they don’t have to shell out an additional $2,000 to $4,000.”
Still, safety advocates are not entirely satisfied with the new rule.
Ideally, Janette Fennell, president and founder of the child safety organization Kids and Cars, said, federal regulators would have required not only backup cameras but also emergency braking and alert systems that automatically stop a vehicle when sensors detect objects or people in a rear blind spot.
Research has shown that those three features would help significantly, compared with just having a backup camera. Rearview cameras can be expected to prevent nearly 1 in 6 police-reported backing crashes, according to an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety study.
The 2016 study compared rates of backing crashes for vehicles equipped with rearview cameras from four automakers with crash rates for the same models without the feature. On average, the cameras cut such crashes by 16 percent.
The cameras had the biggest benefit for drivers 70 and older. Their backing crash rate fell 40 percent with cameras, compared with 15 percent for drivers younger than 70.