As we reported a few months ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA (its vehicle safety agency) proposed that all vehicles provide an unobstructed, 180-degree view rearward when the vehicle is being reversed.
We're all too aware that rearward visibility—especially when parking—in many of today's utility vehicles, as well as some other types of vehicles—can be quite horrible. Take a look at the Safety tab in any of our new-car reviews and you're likely to find at least a sentence summing up outward visibility.
And contrary to what some shoppers first think—that they'll get a better view out in a larger utility vehicle—bigger and taller vehicles are some of the worst offenders. Consumer Reports has in recent months started testing vehicle blind-spot zones in vehicles—measuring the how close you can get to a toddler-height cone while still seeing it from the driver's position—and found outward visibility from some full-size pickups and sport-utility vehicles to be the worst. The best new models (with the shortest blind zones) included the 2011 Toyota Yaris, 2011 Mazda MX-5, 2011 Volvo C30, and 2011 MazdaSpeed3.
The proposed federal requirement would put back-up cameras into ten percent of all vehicles by 2012, then 40 percent by 2013 and all vehicles by 2014.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 300 people die each year from back-up accidents, and about 18,000 annual injuries are attributed to the lack of rearward visibility in such incidents in driveways, shopping-center parking lots, and the like.
NHTSA estimates that 100 of those lives could be saved annually if vehicles had back-up camera systems. About that many annual fatalities involve children age five and younger.
Currently these systems are often packaged with navigation systems, which themselves are often part of costly upgrade packages adding thousands of dollars to the sticker price. That's why, although they're available in a wide range of models, they're not equipped in as many vehicles as you might think.
But it won't cost automakers thousands to add these devices. The regulation, according to government estimates, would add up to $203 in costs per vehicle, while it could cost as little as $58 for vehicles already with the display.
For those watching the bottom line on vehicles, this isn't the only thing adding cost to new vehicles. The higher-tech engines and transmissions, along with weight-saving materials, required by looming corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) requirements.