Rearview camera

Rearview camera, photo courtesy Lincoln.

Four consumer safety groups and two parents who injured or killed their children while backing up their vehicles filed a federal lawsuit yesterday in New York, hoping to force U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to issue a final safety rule within 90 days that would require rearview cameras in every new car, as Kevin Robillard reports for Politico. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Tuesday that it will add rearview video systems to its list of “recommended” features under its New Car Assessment Program, which is designed to encourage carmakers to improve vehicle safety.

But that is not a strong enough stance for those mounting the lawsuit, as Mike M. Ahlers writes for CNN. He writes:

But safety groups called the action a stalling tactic, saying the agency is dragging its feet in fulfilling a congressionally imposed deadline to issue a rule on rear visibility.

Passed in 2008, the law had a 2011 deadline. The regulation is now two and a half years overdue.

In seven out of 10 new vehicles, rearview camera systems are either standard or optional equipment, Ahlers writes. But the safety groups say that the government’s failure to require the systems in all new cars has allowed the death toll in “backover” accidents to increase. U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) data shows that on average each year, 292 people are killed, and 18,000 injured when drivers back up over unseen people behind their vehicles, with children under the age of five accounting for 44% of those fatalities, writes Jaclyn Trop for The New York Times Business Day.

In December 2010, when NHTSA published its proposed rule, the agency said that on-board cameras could decrease the number of deaths and injuries in backup car accidents by half, and would cost about $159 to $203 per vehicle, a price that would now be lower, Ahlers writes. Automakers oppose a mandatory rule, as they need to “balance safety features with competitive prices,” Trop writes. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade association representing 12 automakers, said the decision of whether or not to buy a rearview camera should be left up to consumers, Trop writes.

In a statement, DOT Secretary Foxx said: “As we’ve seen with other features in the past, adding rearview video systems to our list of recommended safety features will encourage both automakers and consumers to consider more vehicles that offer this important technology.” He added that he remains committed to implementing the rear visibility rule as well, as Alexandra Sifferlin writes for TIME Health & Family.

Ahlers quotes Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, who said in a statement that the NHTSA’s action “is an inadequate substitute for issuing a mandatory safety regulation.” She added that “safety advocates are concerned that NHTSA’s announcement is an attempt to divert attention from their failure to act.”

Those filing the lawsuit yesterday included Greg Gulbransen, who backed over his 2-year-old son, Cameron, in his driveway in 2002, killing him; Susan Auriemma, who backed over her 3-year-old daughter, Kate, in her driveway in 2005, injuring her; the Consumers Union of the United States; Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety; Public Citizen; and, as Ahlers reports.

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