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Greg Webb
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Lawsuit Against DOT for Failure to Require Backup Cameras

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In 2008, Congress passed a regulation requiring all new cars and light trucks to have cameras or other backup warning devices by 2011.  The U.S. Department of Transportation has failed to meet that requirement and is now saying it will be 2015 before the required regulation can be met.

This week the Consumers Union, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and Kids and Cars and parents filed a lawsuit suing the Obama administration, in an attempt to force the legislation. Leading the lawsuit are two parents who accidentally backed over their children.

According to the plaintiffs’ press release the DOT estimates that the ruling, proposed in 2010 but never finalized, could prevent 95 to 112 deaths and 7072 to 8374 injuries a year—once implemented.

It is estimated that up to 140 more people could die before the 2015 DOT regulation takes affect. “Forty-four percent of those killed in backover incidents are children under 5 years old.”

 As expected, many automakers are opposed to the legislation. Money is part of the issue, as it often is.  The auto industry’s reluctance to make the rearview cameras a standard feature is couched in language about providing options to consumers.   It is really about profits, and it always is with the auto industry.

About 45 percent of 2012 models and 53% of 2013 cars and light trucks have back-up cameras as a standard feature, according to automotive Web site Edmunds.com.  (Washington Post, 9/24)

Honda has become a leader in this move to equip cars with standard safety features.  It expects to meet the 2014 goal of having all vehicles equipped with the backup cameras as standard equipment, not an option. Rather than resisting the safety features, automakers that have voluntarily added the cameras are being seen as savvy marketers. “For many consumers backup cameras have reached the same status as air conditioning or cruise control,” says Karl Brauer, senior analyst at car research site Kelley Blue Book. “While not standard on every car … these features have become so common that drivers are surprised and disappointed when a vehicle doesn’t have them.” (USA Today 9/25)

The American consumers want safety features in their vehicles. Consumers are seeking out enhanced safety features and select car manufacturers are taking advantage of this consumer trend. So why the delay? The NHTSA recommends adding the backup camera—nothing more than lip service to a device that could save the lives of young children.  Why isn’t the Transportation Department moving forward with more urgency?

In announcing the lawsuit, Joan Claybrook, former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and president emeritus of Public Citizen, is quoted,  “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. With each passing week, 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.”

Vitally important issues like this tend to fall to the bottom of the pile in our current political climate. This is not an onerous regulation for the Transportation Department to enforce. I applaud the backers of this lawsuit for demanding the timely enforcement of this regulatory bill.