Rear cameras better than sensors for preventing backup crashes, IIHS finds

In December, NHTSA submitted a revised rule that would require backup cameras in all new cars sold in the United States.
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The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety said rear cameras are more effective than parking sensors at preventing collisions while a driver is in reverse.

An estimated 292 people are killed and 18,000 injured each year by drivers that back into them, an IIHS study released today said. Rear cameras reduce the blind spots that lead to such collisions by up to 90 percent.

The study was conducted with volunteer drivers in a parking lot that had a pole marked with different colored bands to indicate varying heights of children. The pole was placed at varying points behind the vehicle, with the band representing a 12- to 15-month-old child being the hardest to see. Even with the pole as far away as 27 feet, this band could not be seen by the drivers using glances and mirrors alone.

“Right now cameras appear to be the most promising technology for addressing this particularly tragic type of crash, which frequently claims the lives of young children in the driveways of their own homes,” David Zuby, the institute’s executive vice president and chief research officer, said in a statement.

Large SUVs fared the worst in the IIHS study, proving to have the biggest blind spots of any of the vehicles tested. However, the Ford F-150 fared well compared with its peers -- a product of its large side-view mirrors used for towing.

While most large SUVs and pickups had poor visibility and smaller cars had better visibility, an exception emerged: the midsize Hyundai Sonata, which had a blind spot for the 12- to 15-month-old test that was 42 percent larger than the F-150. The cause for the poor visibility was said to be the sloped rear window and high trunk.

In addition, the IIHS conducted a second test in which drivers were not told they were involved in a safety test, but merely there to test the infotainment system. The drivers were asked to back the vehicles up and drive to their personal vehicles, but a foam dummy representing a child was placed behind them -- sometimes moving and sometimes stationary.

The test showed that a moving dummy was easier to spot, but when the vehicle lacked either sensors or cameras, the drivers hit the stationary target every time.

Drivers with rear cameras hit the stationary target the least, but still caused a collision 56 percent of the time. Parking sensors helped just 6 percent of the drivers avoid the stationary dummy.

Oddly, in vehicles with both rear cameras and parking sensors 75 percent of drivers hit the dummy -- more than with cameras alone.

In December, after several delays, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration submitted a revised rule to the White House that would require backup cameras in all new cars sold in the United States. The final version of that rule is expected to be released by January 2015.

You can reach Sean Gagnier at sgagnier@crain.com.

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