THE National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing to expand the current rear-visibility requirements of all passenger cars, multi-purpose passenger vehicles, trucks, buses, and low-speed vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of 10,000 or fewer pounds by specifying an area behind the vehicle that a driver must be able to see when the vehicle is in reverse gear.

This rulemaking action is being undertaken in response to the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act of 2007, which required that NHTSA undertake rulemaking to expand the required field of view to enable the driver of a motor vehicle to detect areas behind the vehicle to reduce death and injury resulting from backing incidents known as backover crashes. A backover crash is a specifically defined type of incident in which a non-occupant of a vehicle (most commonly, a pedestrian, but it could also be a cyclist) is struck by a vehicle moving in reverse.

The proposed rule appeared in the Federal Register on December 7, 2010 (49 CFR Parts 571 and 585). Comments must be received by February 7.

NHTSA believes that the only technology available with the ability to comply with this proposal would be a rear-visibility system that includes a rear-mounted video camera and an in-vehicle visual display.

“In light of the difficulty of effectively addressing the backover safety problem through technologies other than camera systems, and given the differences in the effectiveness and cost of the available technologies, we developed several alternatives that, compared to the proposal, offer less, but at least in one case still substantial, benefits and do so at reduced cost,” NHTSA says, referring to looking directly out the vehicle's rear window, indirect vision via rear-mounted convex mirrors, and rear-object-detection sensors.

NHTSA's assessment of available safety data indicates that on average there are 292 fatalities and 18,000 injuries (3000 of which NHTSA judges to be incapacitating) resulting from backover crashes every year. Of those, 228 fatalities and 17,000 injuries were attributed to backover incidents involving light vehicles (passenger cars, multipurpose passenger vehicles, trucks, buses, and low-speed vehicles) with a GVWR of 10,000 or fewer pounds.

In analyzing the data, NHTSA made several tentative findings:

  • Many of these incidents occur off public roadways, in areas such as driveways and parking lots and involve parents (or caregivers) accidentally backing over children.

  • Children under 5 years of age represent approximately 44% of the fatalities, which NHTSA believes to be “a uniquely high percentage for a particular crash mode.”

  • When pickups and multipurpose passenger vehicles strike a pedestrian in a backover crash, the incident is four times more likely to result in a fatality than if the striking vehicle were a passenger car.

Thirty-seven entities commented in response to the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM). Industry associations submitting comments included the Alliance of Automotive Manufacturers (AAM), the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers (AIAM), the Automotive Occupant Restraints Council (AORC), and the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA). Vehicle manufacturers submitting comments included Ford, General Motors, Honda, Mercedes-Benz USA, and Nissan, as well as Blue Bird, a manufacturer of buses. Several equipment manufacturers also submitted comments, including Continental, Delphi, Gentex, Magna, Sony, and Takata.

With regard to the issue of which vehicles most warrant improved rear visibility, vehicle manufacturers generally wanted to focus any expansion of rear visibility on the particular types of vehicles (trucks, vans, and multipurpose passenger vehicles within the specified weight limits) that they believed posed the highest risk of backover crash fatalities and injuries. Vehicle safety organizations and equipment manufacturers generally suggested that all vehicles need to have expanded rear fields of view.

NHTSA received one comment, from Blue Bird, asserting that buses should not be subject to improved rear-visibility requirements.

“First, Blue Bird noted that the backover statistics presented by NHTSA did not show any apparent backover crashes caused by buses,” NHTSA says. “Second, it stated that most drivers of buses are required to obtain commercial driver licenses (CDLs), and that these drivers are subjected to additional training, limiting the chances of backover crashes. The company also stated that mirrors, in any of several configurations, would not be able to provide an adequate field of view to the rear of a bus, and would present exceptional mounting difficulties. Additionally, because many buses (such as school buses) are not equipped with navigation screens, the costs for installing rearview video systems in these vehicles would be higher than the average for passenger vehicles.”