DOT Sued Over Rear Visibility Rule Delay of Over Two Years

Even when using all three mirrors, drivers are unable to see a blind spot directly behind their vehicles. These blind areas immediately behind vehicles possibly hide the presence of pedestrians, particularly young children and the elderly.

More than 200 people across the United States are killed in backover crashes each year, with approximately 18,000 more sustaining injuries. Unfortunately, 44 percent of the fatal victims in these backover incidents are children. On average, 50 children sustain injuries in backover crashes every single week, two of them suffering fatal injuries.

Safety advocates, along with two parents who unintentionally hit their children when backing up their vehicles, are suing the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), asking the court to order the agency to immediately issue a safety rule that sets federal standards on the rear visibility of vehicles.

In 2008, Congress directed DOT to issue a rule known as the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act, which requires greater improved rear visibility in all new consumer vehicles, whether through back cameras or other tools.

Passing the House via a voice vote, unanimously passing through the Senate, and being signed into law by President George W. Bush, the bill required that DOT enable the rule within a period of three years, but allowed them to extend this deadline if it cannot be met.

The agency initially made progress, and issued a proposed rule in December 2010. It then sent a final draft of the ruling for review to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) a year later, and remained there for the next 19 months. In June 2013, after three extensions of the statutory deadline, DOT withdrew the rule from OMB and pushed the deadline to January 2015. The agency stated that it needed more time for study, even if they had already conducted extensive research in the past.

In 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed mandating rearview cameras for all vehicles starting 2014. While automakers have generally supported this requirement, others brought up concerns on technical aspects of the proposition, as well as the additional costs. Several automakers have begun to design models with camera systems in anticipation of the 2014 mandate, offering a standard or stand-alone option for several hundred dollars instead of including a camera in a navigation package.

Parties who filed the suit against DOT were Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Kids and Cars, Inc., Consumers Union of the United States, Dr. Greg Gulbransen, and Susan Auriemma. Auriemma, from Manhasset, New York, injured her 3-year-old-daughter in 2005 after backing over her in their own driveway. Gulbransen, from Syosset, New York, backed over his 2-year-old son in their driveway in 2002, killing him. The 2008 law is named after Gulbransen’s boy, Cameron.

The legal action asks the court to declare that the Department of Transportation has delayed the rule unreasonably, and to direct the agency to issue the rule within a 90-day period.

Estimates by the DOT show that their own delay past the deadline has allowed between 237 to 280 avoidable deaths, as well as thousands of injuries that could have been prevented. The same estimates show that another 118 to 140 individuals will die in preventable backover incidents before DOT regulates its rule, assuming that they do not extend the 2015 date once more.

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