Changes are being made to help ensure that the number of children accidentally hit by cars backing up goes way down.
According to Kids and Cars, an organization raising awareness about back-overs, 50 children are accidentally hit weekly. Often, they are hit by family members backing out of the driveway and unaware that the child has run behind the car.
On Dec. 3, the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed new safety regulations in accordance with the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Safety Transportation Act, which directs the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to come up with a way to improve drivers’ ability to see pedestrians behind them.
And the Administration determined that the most effective option is the rear-mounted video camera, along with the in-vehicle display screen, so the driver can see what happens behind the car. The proposal requires that these improvements be in cars by the 2014 model year.
During its research, the Administration heard proposals from those in the car industry, equipment manufacturers and safety advocates. It also tested numerous mechanisms that could be used to save lives. It tested not only the effectiveness of each, but also the driver’s tendency to use it effectively.
The Administration found that additional mirrors tended to distort images, and sensors, which are used in some cars already, failed to reflect well off of non-smooth surfaces — like clothing. Also, young children were often too short to be detected by sensors. In addition, sensors can sound false alarms, therefore losing their effectiveness. And it was found that people respond more to visual alerts, rather than auditory ones.
In its calculations, the Administration considered how the size of the vehicles and the height of the drivers affected rear visibility. It found that the area of highest risk was an area 10 feet wide and 20 feet, in length, behind a vehicle.
Safety advocate Bill Nelson — who has been raising awareness with a yearly four-mile run since he lost his son, Alec, in a back-over incident in 2004 in Dix Hills, Long Island — is grateful that this issue is being addressed. He believes that the proposed regulations are a great start, but he still cautions that millions of vehicles without rearview cameras will remain on the road for a long, long time.
And Manhasset resident Susan Auriemma worries that many drivers may not understand how long, or how often, they need to view the display screen when backing up.
“We need to use a combination of education and technology to keep our children safe,” says Janette Fennell, president and founder of Kids and Cars. She finds that people need to be provided with information so that they can make effective use of the new technology — like knowing to wipe the camera lens from time to time, as snow and dirt can obscure the image. Fennell’s organization hopes to help people measure the blind zone behind their vehicles, as not all people are aware of just how big that zone can be. She also wants people to know that the cameras are not fool-proof protection for backing up.
Although these new steps should reduce driveway back-over accidents considerably, there is no technology that can replace full attention and vigilance when backing up, cautions David Strickland, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration administrator. Drivers still need to check on the whereabouts of children and check that no one is behind their vehicles.
The proposed regulations for car manufacturers rest on the belief that for now, they would use current rearview video systems to satisfy the new standards, and therefore would not incur a higher cost for manufacturing cars with the new technology. In its proposal, the Administration noted that the regulations would prevent property damage as well.
Driveway back-overs are not the only danger to our children, but they are a preventable one. New regulations mandating the installation of rearview cameras in new cars will not ensure avoidance of every back-over incident, but such regulations will no doubt save lives.
For more about the proposed regulations, visit www.nhtsa.gov/.
To find out more about Kids and Cars, car safety, and back-overs, visit kidsandcars.org.
Alec’s Run [Half Hollow Hills West High School in Dix Hills, Long Island] is on April 30 at 9:30 am. A separate fun run for kids begins at 9 am. To find out more, visit alecsrun.com.
Risa C. Doherty is a freelance writer and attorney from East Hills, NY, and drives an SUV equipped with a rearview camera
Copyright 2011 by Risa C. Doherty