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November 10, 2014 Published in Traffic & Transportation

The Blind Spot: Tests Prove Rear-View Cameras Can Save Lives And Greatly Improve The Safety Of Children

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Nothing is more terrifying to a parent. A Maryland mother accidentally backed her SUV into five children playing in her driveway, killing her own daughter, who was only eight-years-old. Although it occurred two years ago, the horrific crash in Prince George’s County underscores the fact that children under five-years-old comprise almost half of the death toll in accidents involving a vehicle backing up (or almost 100 children out of the 228 persons killed on average each year). More than 18,000 persons are injured each year in such collisions.

When used appropriately, a rear-view camera on a vehicle offers a bright, clear view directly behind the vehicle where small children are the most difficult to see, advises AAA Mid-Atlantic. Rear-view cameras in vehicles can safeguard lives and greatly enhance the safety of children, research by AAA confirms. In fact, rear-view camera systems improved rear visibility an average of 46 % in recent tests conducted by AAA.

To prevent such tragedies, 46% of the 2014-model year vehicles sold in the United States rolled off the assembly line equipped with back-up camera systems. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires a rear-view image in all passenger vehicles beginning in 2016, with full compliance by May 2018. To gauge the effectiveness of back-up camera systems, AAA evaluated vehicles with factory-installed and aftermarket rear-view cameras.

“Rear-view cameras are a great supplement for drivers and are especially helpful for viewing the first ten feet behind the vehicle, which are the most hazardous in terms of back-over risk for young children,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “However, while these cameras dramatically improve rear visibility, they do not replace the need to check around your vehicle for obstacles before getting in to your vehicle and backing up.”

These “vehicle backover avoidance” cameras are intended to improve driver awareness of the area immediately behind the vehicle in order to reduce the instance of back-over fatalities. The primary benefit of this technology is that it makes it much easier to monitor a difficult-to-see areas around the vehicle and take corrective action as a result, explains AAA Mid-Atlantic. To ascertain this:

  • AAA evaluated 17 vehicles across 11 manufacturers with factory-installed and aftermarket rear-view camera systems on a variety of vehicle body styles.
  • The increased visibility ranged from a 36%  improvement in smaller sedans to a 75% improvement in hatchbacks. Large trucks and sport utility vehicles scored in the mid-range of vehicles evaluated.

Tragically, the predominant profile and age of the victims of a “backover” accident is that of a one-year-old baby. Compounding the tragedy, a parent or a close relative is behind the wheel in over 70% of these incidents. Back-up cameras expand the driver’s field of vision to encompass a 10-by-20 foot zone directly behind the vehicle, notes AAA Mid-Atlantic.

AAA’s research – conducted with the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center – found that:

  • A rear-view camera system increased visibility of the rear blind-zone area by an average of 46% for the vehicles tested. This ranged from a 36% improvement in smaller sedans to a 75% improvement in hatchbacks.
  • Although these systems dramatically improve rear-view visibility, they do not show 100% of the space behind the vehicle. AAA recommends drivers always walk behind their vehicle to visually confirm that there are no obstacles, and use the rear-view camera to confirm that nothing has entered the area immediately behind the vehicle since the driver’s walk-through inspection.
  • Rain, snow or slush can cloud the rear-view camera lens, delivering blurry imagery. Motorists will need to resort to manual methods of confirming that the rear blind zone is clear during inclement weather. Wiping the camera during the pre-drive inspection is a good habit that ensures the camera is ready to capture a clear image.
  • All of the systems tested met – and many exceeded – the minimum specifications for image quality per the NHTSA guideline.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety also has provided an assessment of back-up cameras, along with six other advanced technologies, in the August 2014 report, Evaluating Technologies Relevant to the Enhancement of Driver Safety. Conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab, the study details a data-driven system for rating the effectiveness of new in-vehicle technologies intended to improve driver safety. Motorists can review the AAA Foundation’s rating for new in-vehicle technologies, along with extensive informational material, at https://www.aaafoundation.org/ratings-vehicle-safety-technology.

Backing collisions comprise nearly one-quarter of all collisions across the nation. A “backover” crash occurs when a driver reverses into and kills or injuries a non-occupant such as a pedestrian or a bicyclist, explains NHTSA. However, back-up cameras can prevent such crashes because they allow the driver to view the area behind the rear bumper and see small objects that may be obstructed by the vehicle’s blind spot, or may not ordinarily be visible at all, explains AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Children under five years old and adults 70 and older have an elevated risk of being backover victims compared to the rest of the population, explains NHTSA. In fact, research also shows: “In the U.S. at least 50 children are being backed over by vehicles every week. 48 are treated in hospital emergency rooms and at least two children are fatally injured every week.” Yet, back-up cameras provide an easily accessible view behind the vehicle, and may warn the driver if a potential crash/collision is detected, explains AAA Mid-Atlantic.

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