Consumers Union — the lobbying group for Consumer Reports — joined the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Kids and Cars Inc. and two parents in filing a lawsuit Wednesday against the Department of Transportation for “unreasonable delay” on a backup camera mandate. The ruling, issued after Congress passed — and President George W. Bush signed — the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act in 2008, is named after a child killed when an SUV backed into him in 2002. The bill authorized the DOT to issue a law within three years unless conditions could not be met.
Since then, DOT has pushed the timetable back four times, the latest of which delays a final rule until 2015. That rule would likely stipulate a phase-in period, which means shoppers may not see standard backup cameras until the 2017 or 2018 model year. Still, automakers like Honda are ahead of the game with backup cameras in almost all cars.
A 2012 Harris Poll survey found growing consumer interest in the cameras. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said they would add $159 to $203 per vehicle for cars without instrument panel screens but only $58 to $88 for cars that already have them — and those displays are reaching ubiquity, with brands as affordable as Scion making them standard.
The DOT estimates standard backup cameras would prevent 95 to 112 deaths and 7,072 to 8,374 injuries a year, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said in a press release. That’s a large chunk of the 228 people killed and 17,000 injured in so-called “backover” crashes by light-duty vehicles (e.g., not semi-trucks), the lawsuit claimed. The death toll is a small chunk of pedestrian deaths caused by motorists — 4,432 were killed in 2011, according to a May 2013 report by NHTSA — but the injury toll is significant. NHTSA says some 69,000 pedestrians were injured by a motorist in 2011; that means a quarter of those incidents may have resulted from light-duty vehicles backing into people.
“The Transportation Department has a mission, duty and obligation to protect the public, but every day it stalls this rule, Americans unnecessarily remain in danger,” Kids and Cars President Janette Fennell said in a statement. DOT spokeswoman Karen Aldana did not respond to our request for comment. NHTSA said Monday it would add backup cameras to its list of recommended vehicle technologies, which go alongside a given car’s five-star safety ratings. Scott Michelman, an attorney at Public Citizen, which represents the litigating group, told USA Today that “a recommendation is no substitute for a mandate.”