Auto lobby seeks to tweak U.S. rule to free up design

A push to adjust backup cameras

Auto lobby seeks to tweak U.S. rule to free up design

Federal regulators have effectively mandated rearview camera systems, such as this one in a 2015 GMC Acadia, in most new light vehicles sold, starting in 2018. Now auto industry lobbyists are pushing for more changes.

Photo credit: GM
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WASHINGTON -- The long-awaited final federal rule mandating backup cameras may not be so final after all.

This spring, after a yearslong campaign to stop drivers from backing their cars over children, U.S. auto-safety regulators changed federal standards to effectively mandate backup cameras in most new light vehicles sold, starting in 2018.

Now, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the industry's main lobbying force in Washington, is making one more push for changes -- such as permission to stitch together multiple camera angles, rather than using just one. Without the changes, the group says in a petition to regulators, it could be hard for manufacturers to use certain designs, such as mounting the spare tire above the bumper of an SUV.

Automakers want to "deliver our customers the best system we can achieve," says the petition, filed in late May with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "As the technology for these systems is rapidly advancing, we do not want to limit the safety benefits by restricting the amount of cameras that may be utilized."

The conflict is another example of a persistent gap between the pace of regulatory change and technological innovation. Automakers are increasingly frustrated by federal safety standards that take years or decades to modernize, slowing the introduction of new technology and design ideas.

NHTSA set standards for headlights decades ago with an eye to safety. But those rules now are stopping Audi and Toyota from offering computer-controlled headlights that are being offered in Europe and Japan as a safety feature.

Tesla Motors and the alliance are also challenging federal rules that require cars to have side mirrors by arguing that cameras could provide greater visibility. The absence of side mirrors would make cars more aerodynamic and thus reduce their energy use, they say.

The backup camera petition includes several other requests, including an extension of the deadlines to Sept. 1 in 2016 and 2017, rather than May 1 in each of those years, to accommodate a Sept. 1 model-year changeover. If the phase-in is not well-timed, it will present a "significant cost burden" to the manufacturers, the petition says.

NHTSA will decide whether to reconsider its rules. If it does not, the rules will go into effect as written, barring any intervention by the courts.

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

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