Posted On: October 23, 2013 by Nancy Barron

Backing Up Into Tragedy

Every car and truck has a blind spot - the area that is just out of sight when the driver puts a vehicle into reverse. Neither the rear view mirrors, nor any amount of craning one's neck, can reach that zone of invisibility that lies just a few feet behind the back bumper. The critical blind spot is worse in SUVs, trucks or other vehicles that ride on a high chassis.

It is estimated that an astonishing 200 people are killed and 18,000 injured each year in what the industry refers to as “backover” crashes.

The particularly tragic thing is that many of the victims are children. They are short in stature and unpredictable in behavior. Thus, 44% of those killed in backover incidents are children under the age of 5 years old. As if that weren’t horrible enough, the statistics show that 50 children are injured every week in this way. With Halloween right around the corner, the risk of these accidents is acute.child_behind_car.bmp

In 2008 Congress passed the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act, at the urging of grief-stricken parents and consumer advocates to address the problem. This law received broad bipartisan support. It required the Department of Transportation to set federal safety standards on rear visibility, a move that would prompt car manufacturers to come up with a practical solution. Such a solution is is entirely feasible, as ample technology already exists and some auto makers are voluntarily offering applicable options. The law gave the DOT three years to issue the regulation.

It took two years for the DOT to come up with a proposed rule. Still, this was some progress. The DOT claimed that its proposed 2010 rule would prevent about half the deaths and nearly half the injures reported from backover accidents. Despite the documented likelihood of saving 100 lives each year, the Department of Transportation has repeatedly delayed finalizing the rule. The federal agency has now pushed the deadline for implementing this life-saving measure back to January 2015.

Consumer advocates are exasperated. Joan Clayboork, former head of Public Citizen, says, “Further delays in issuing the safety standard are unacceptable and unnecessary. As a former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, I know that there is enough data to take action today.” Claybrook places blame on the industry. “With each passing week," she urges, "Children throughout America will die or be horribly injured because a proven and effective safety solution is being withheld by DOT under pressure from the auto manufacturers.”

Now, two of the parents who accidently hit their children in backover crashes, along with consumer protection groups, have sued the government to implement this bipartisan legislation. Ami Gadhia, an attorney with Consumers Union, explains, “This rule has been delayed for years… Rear visibility technology can save lives, and the time for action is long overdue.”