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Traffic safety groups sue over delays in backup accident law

As we discussed in our last post, a series of tragic, often-fatal accidents has been occurring across the U.S. in recent years. Because of poor rear visibility in modern cars and SUVs, 228 people are killed every year, on average, in backup accidents. Perhaps hundreds more are injured. All too often, they’re children under the age of 5 -- mostly when a parent or relative was at the wheel.

Yet most of these injuries and wrongful deaths could have been prevented if “Cameron’s law,” the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act, had been implemented as expected. The law was passed in 2008 and required the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to put rules in place by 2011 to reduce the risk of backup accidents. Instead the deadline has been repeatedly pushed back, apparently due to auto industry pressure.

Now, a coalition of traffic safety groups and parents, one of them the father of Cameron Gulbransen, have filed a federal lawsuit over these delays. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut called the delays in implementing Cameron’s law “outrageous and unacceptable” and appealed for backup cameras to be required on all cars and SUVs.

Indeed, that was the proposal NHTSA initially brought forward in 2010. It estimated that requiring backup cameras on all cars would add between $53 and $203 to the average price, but the auto industry has repeatedly balked, citing cost concerns. NHTSA now says it will recommend the cameras but not require them.

"A recommendation is no substitute for a mandate," said a spokesperson for Public Citizen, one of the parties to the lawsuit.

Even as NHTSA and automakers squabble, rear visibility has actually gotten worse on all types of vehicles, as manufacturers have cut their use of heavy glass to encourage fuel efficiency and thickened the pillars between windows to improve crashworthiness.

"No matter what you drive, whether it's a station wagon, minivans or giant honkin' SUV, you can't see what's behind you," said a spokesperson for Kids and Cars, another party. "It's terrifying."

How many injuries and wrongful deaths will we have to endure before the government implements Cameron’s law? The U.S. Department of Transportation’s best implementation estimate is now 2015.

Source: USA TODAY, “Administration sued over backup camera delay,” Fred Meier and Chris Woodyard, Sept. 26, 2013

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