A federal mandate to require backup cameras in all vehicles, expected Feb. 29, will be a bonanza for suppliers of collision-avoidance equipment.
But the mandate also could provide an unintended boost to the infotainment industry.
If automakers install display screens for backup cameras in entry-level vehicles, they could add no-frills applications for navigation, audio and hands-free phone calls.
Auto shoppers are snapping up connected-car features, and General Motors last month demonstrated the feasibility of a no-frills infotainment system when it announced plans to equip the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS with MyLink.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been working on its backup safety rules since 2007, when Congress ordered it to establish standards. Backup accidents cause an average of 292 fatalities and 3,000 serious injuries per year, according to federal statistics.
This month NHTSA is expected to instruct automakers to equip their vehicles with video cameras that detect pedestrians behind the vehicles.
In a rule-making notice published in 2010, NHTSA tentatively concluded that "rearview video systems are the most effective technology available today."
The agency's notice also hinted at some guidelines. A rear-facing camera should be able to scan an area 10 feet wide by 20 feet deep behind the vehicle, and the driver should be able to view it on a video screen.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has endorsed this approach. "For the near term, it seems like videos are the best solution," said David Zuby, the organization's chief research officer. "Cameras appear to be eminently feasible."