Detroit Car Show, Getty Images
Jayne O'Donnell, USA TODAY
Automakers have put rearview cameras as standard equipment into more than half of all new cars, but federal regulators have delayed making cameras a requirement four times in the past five years.
Parents of young victims of backover crashes came to Washington on Thursday to pressure the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to immediately issue the rule. The advocacy group Kids and Cars noted there have been 1,000 backover deaths and 70,000 injuries since the 2007 law requiring NHTSA to issue the rule was passed.
The Centers for Disease Control says an average of two children die every week in a backover incident.
"Two year olds don't know cars are dangerous," said Michael Dahlen, whose daughter Abigail died three years ago Thursday.
Dahlen, whose wife Brandy stood teary eyed next to him holding a photo of Abigail, described how he had to "get up under the car and pull her out" after a neighbor' backed over her in a Chevrolet Suburban.
The rule has a very high cost for the expected number of lives saved, which is believed to be the main roadblock to the rule's mplementation. NHTSA estimated in 2009 that it could cost $1.5 to nearly $3 billion when rear cameras are installed in all cars.
But the fact carmakers have already installed cameras in more than half of new vehicles would be considered by OMB in its cost assessment, according to John Graham, who was rulemaking chief at the Office of Management and Budget in the last Bush Administration. Still, he noted, NHTSA and OMB are "generally reluctant to issue safety standards that cost consumers more than $5-$10 million per life saved."
Edmunds.com says 53% of 2013 models have rear cameras as standard equipment, up from 19% in 2009 when NHTSA first proposed its rule.
All major rules must go through a cost-benefit analysis that is reviewed by OMB. Even if costs are high relative to benefits, the rule might be issued anyway due to mitigating factors such as strong interest in Congress or a special consideration for children, Graham says.
Joan Claybrook, who headed NHTSA in the Carter Administration, blames the Administration for bowing to pressure for delays from automakers, who at least publicly supported the bill.
OMB "has got their green eye shades on and are completely off the mark.," said Claybrook.
Rep. Peter King, R-NY, who co-sponsored the legislation that required NHTSA to issue a rear visibility rule, said the Administration should "never forget the human cost" of the incidents.
"Is it dollars or is it children's lives?," he asked.
Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said automakers have only asked that regulators consider all possbile ways to improve rear visibility. Citing Edmunds.com's numbers on camera installation, Newton noted that "automakers are providing consumers with many options" for safety technology,
Consumers have "many choices when it comes to what type of safety technology is appropriate for their families," Newton says.
When it issued its proposed rule in 2010, NHTSA noted that the cameras were the most expensive option for improving rear visibility, but cited the fact nearly half of the 228 annual victims of backover crashes are very young children "with nearly their entire lives ahead of them."
"There are strong reasons, grounded in this consideration and in considerations of equity, to prevent these deaths," the agency said.
Patrick Ivison, 18, appeared at the press conference in a wheelchair. He was backed over when he was 14 months and became a quadrigplegic.
"I feel so lucky to be alive," said the California college student. "This can be prevented and it should be prevented."
But Edmunds analyst Jeremy Acevedo says "while there is no denying its contribution to safety, it's difficult to gauge the effectiveness" of rear cameras. He wonders if more effective alternatives might exist with advanced .driver assistance programs like collision avoidance."
The Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act was signed into law by President Bush on February 28, 2008. NHTSA was required to issue a final rule by February 28, 2011. According to CDC, every week 50 children are backed over by a vehicle and 48 are treated in hospital emergency rooms. At least two die.
In a statement Thursday, NHTSA said it "remains committed to improving rearview visibility for the nation's automobiles. The rule remains under review."