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NHTSA Makes Rearview Cameras Mandatory for New Cars in U.S. Market

April 2, 2014

On Monday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finalized a rule that will require all new vehicles under 10,000 pounds to be equipped with rear visibility cameras by mid-2018.

This rule covers all cars, SUVs, minivans, and small trucks and buses. Cameras must display a view that includes a 10-foot by 20-foot zone behind the vehicle.

U.S. federal safety regulators finally issued the rule after several years of delay. Congress called for this set of federal standards way back in 2007 due to a series of accidents wherein driving parents backed over their young children, killing them in the process. It then passed legislation that requires a rearview visibility standard to be adopted.

In 2008, President George W. Bush signed into law the “Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act.” The law required the NHTSA to implement the rules by 2011. However, the Obama administration postponed the writing of the rules five separate times due to cost concerns.

In December, some organizations sued the government to prompt the NHTSA to finalize the rule. Interestingly, the agency released the rule one day before the administration is set to defend itself against the organizations which filed the lawsuit.

“We are committed to protecting the most vulnerable victims of back-over accidents — our children and seniors,” said Secretary Anthony Foxx of the Department of Transportation, which oversees the NHTSA. “As a father, I can only imagine how heart-wrenching these types of accidents can be for families, but we hope that today’s rule will serve as a significant step toward reducing these tragic accidents.”

The rule is expected to reduce the number of backover accidents as well as the fatalities that result from such accidents. According to the NHTSA, backover accidents kill about 210 people in the United States per year and cause 15,000 injuries, 31 percent of which involve children below the age of five. The agency believes that rearview cameras can save 58 to 69 lives each year once the rule is in full effect.

The mandate will phase in over a couple of years. Automakers are required to install the compliant rearview visibility technology to 10 percent of their new vehicles built from May 1, 2016, to May 1, 2017. They must comply with the requirement with 40 percent of their vehicles built from May 1, 2017 to May 1, 2018. By May 1, 2018, 100 percent of all new vehicles in the country must be equipped with rearview cameras.

NHTSA’s rule does not apply to all auto manufacturers. “Small volume” carmakers are exempted, so companies which specialize in exotic rides may not need to add cameras to their new models.

NHTSA estimates the cost of the technology, consisting of a display screen and camera, to range from $132 to $142 for each vehicle for the 2018 model year. The installation of a camera on a vehicle that already has a display screen is expected to cost between $43 to $45. The agency estimates that the overall cost of equipping 73 percent of a new vehicle fleet with the technology by 2018 is $546 to $640 million.

According to the agency, the rule does not actually require automakers to equip their vehicles with cameras. Rather, it specifies that a certain area directly behind the vehicle must be visible to the person behind the wheel. The agency “anticipates that, in the near term, vehicle manufacturers will use rearview video systems and in-vehicle visual displays to meet the requirements of this final rule.”

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