U.S. finalizes plan to phase in rearview camera mandate, starting in 2016

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WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Department of Transportation today finalized a set of federal standards for rear visibility that will require all new vehicles under 10,000 pounds to have backup cameras by mid-2018.

Congress called for the rules in 2008 after a spate of accidents in which parents driving cars or trucks backed over their young children, killing them.

The DOT proposed regulations in 2010 to carry out these orders, but the Obama administration delayed the rules several times over cost concerns.

Today’s final rule was released one day before the administration was scheduled to defend itself in federal circuit court against safety advocates who had sued the government over the delays.

“We are committed to protecting the most vulnerable victims of back-over accidents -- our children and seniors,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement today. “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.”

Timetable

The rules will phase in over several years. Automakers will be required to have compliant rearview systems in 10 percent of the vehicles they build from May 1, 2016, to May 1, 2017. That share rises to 40 percent for the next year and 100 percent starting on May 1, 2018.

That timetable will force automakers to accelerate their adoption of the technology, which has become increasingly popular in luxury cars and high-end trim packages, and as a way to differentiate mass-market cars such as the Honda Civic, which includes a camera as standard equipment.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the main lobbying group for automakers in Washington, said in a statement that the industry has embraced the technology, and offers backup cameras as standard or optional features in two-thirds of the 50 top-selling vehicles in the United States.

Despite that, the group opposed a mandate requiring them to make backup cameras standard equipment in every car.

“These are exciting new innovations, but we know our customers have their own preferences among new technologies,” the group said. “It is one of our core beliefs that consumers should be in the driver’s seat when choosing which technologies they want to purchase.”

The rules require drivers to be able to see a 10-foot by 20-foot zone behind a vehicle. A camera system appears to be the only way for automakers to comply with that requirement and separate standards for traits such as “image size.”

Cost estimates

NHTSA estimates that a full system, including a camera and a display screen, will cost $132 to $142 per vehicle for the 2018 model year. Installing a camera in a vehicle that already has a suitable display screen would cost $43 to $45, the agency says. Because an estimated 73 percent of the new-vehicle fleet would have rearview cameras by 2018, regardless of the standards, NHTSA estimates the total cost of its rule at $546 million to $640 million that year.

Back-over accidents kill an estimated 210 people in the United States each year and cause another 15,000 injuries, NHTSA says. The agency projects that backup cameras -- including the ones that are not required under the latest rule -- will save 58 to 69 lives per year once the mandate is in full effect.

Safety advocates praised the final rules. They had complained that automakers profited on backup cameras by offering them as pricey add-ons rather than standard equipment, praised the final rule.

“This federal rule will ensure that correcting dangerous rear blind zones does not require families to spend extra money when buying a new car for an essential lifesaving technology like a rear view camera,” Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said in a statement.

“Every make and model will be required to meet this new safety standard and every family will benefit.”

You can reach Gabe Nelson at gnelson@crain.com.

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