My rearview camera worked fine -- but she needed one, too

A trip to Costco with my son last month cost me $100.

That’s not because I found a smoking deal on 20 gallons of mayonnaise -- or anything else I bought inside America’s most magical shopping wonderland. The $100 is what it’s costing me to fix the dent and scrapes that another shopper left on the side of my car.

As I was backing out of my parking space, I spotted a Buick Rendezvous across the aisle also start to move. I saw it first in the rearview-camera monitor, then through the window. (More on this in a minute.) So I did what is always the wrong multiple-choice answer on Michigan’s driver’s license test: I honked.

As you might expect, this attracted the attention of seemingly every other person in the parking lot except for the one who could have prevented her Rendezvous from having a rendezvous with the side panel of my Chevrolet Traverse.

By the time it occurred to me that the better option would have been to quickly throw the shifter into drive and pull ahead again, it was too late. When I got out to learn more about this lucky break for my dealer’s body shop, the other driver was apologetic. She was so focused, she said, on watching for shopping carts and people walking that she hadn’t seen me.

That’s funny. (Again, mostly for the body shop guy.) Because I had seen the whole thing, and there weren’t any carts, or people, or barrels of mayonnaise anywhere nearby at the time. But there was a 6-foot-tall, 17-foot-long, 5,000-pound, honking (literally) thing that should be easier to see than any of the things she apparently was looking for.

The repair estimate ended up coming out to only about $700. I just learned that the other driver’s insurance company agreed to pay $400 toward my $500 deductible. The claims adjuster determined that she was 80 percent at fault, putting the other 20 percent on me even though my vehicle was at a dead stop when it was hit. I didn’t argue, but I also didn’t say I wouldn’t grumble a bit on the Internet.

So, in the end, I’m out $100. It barely disrupted my day, no one got hurt, including my 1-year-old son. And, honestly, the damage isn’t very noticeable.

But what the Great Costco Smash-Up of 2012 showed me is what a difference rearview cameras can make. I saw what was going on behind my vehicle. The other driver didn’t.

When I bought my Traverse two years ago, I told the salesman it had to have a rearview camera. This was the biggest vehicle I had ever owned, and with a baby on the way, I thought $450 to improve visibility as much as possible was money well spent.

Federal regulators have been weighing whether to make rearview cameras mandatory in new vehicles within a couple of years. The Transportation Department was close to finalizing a rule on the subject a few months ago, but then it backed off at the last minute to study the issue more.

The benefits highlighted by advocates of rearview cameras are huge, and they’re far more serious than avoiding a little dent. The government says cameras could prevent 95 to 112 deaths and as many as 8,374 injuries each year. Most of these incidents are horrible, unimaginable tragedies, and a lot of the victims are children who get run over by their parents.

The downside is the cost: an estimated $2.7 billion a year for the auto industry, or $11.8 million per life saved.

But it also works out to less than $200 per vehicle. I happily paid more than double that. Now I’m paying $100 more because the vehicle that hit me didn’t have a camera.

While saving lives is obviously far more important, the number of minor property-damage accidents that could be prevented with widespread use of cameras is enormous. Your body-shop guy might even have to sell one of his vacation homes.

Technical details, such as how quickly the camera image must appear after the vehicle is put into reverse and the exact angle that the camera needs to show, have delayed the government’s decision on whether to make cameras mandatory. But a rearview camera already comes standard in almost half of 2012-model vehicles, which means a lot of consumers clearly want them.

I did, and anyone who discovers just how much they can’t see behind their vehicle after it’s too late might discover they want one, too. Costco would be a less dangerous place, at least outside the store. So would every parking lot and driveway.

And I’d have an extra $100.

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