US Department Of Transportation Sued Over Backup Cameras

This morning, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) was sued by Public Citizen and several consumer advocate groups for a long standing delay in implementing a 5 year old law mandating the revision of rear visibility standards in new vehicles. The lead plaintiff, Greg Gulbransen, claims that if his vehicle had been equipped with a backup camera, this would have saved the life of his infant son, who was killed in 2002 when Mr. Gulbransen backed his vehicle over his son in his driveway.

In 2008, Congress passed a law signed by then President Bush which required the Department of Transportation to revise rear visibility standards by February of 2011. The Public Citizen lawsuit alleges that the DOT has been intentionally delaying implementation of those standards, with tragic results. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), a division of the Department of Transportation, estimates that “backover” accidents result in 292 deaths and approximately 18,000 injuries per year. Almost half of the fatal accidents involve children younger than five years, as the infants are in what is known as the “blind zone”, an area behind the vehicle that cannot be viewed by an average driver while seated in the driver’s seat and looking in the rear view mirrors.

NHTSA estimates that if rear view cameras were installed in all new vehicles, the cameras would save 95 lives and prevent more than 7,000 injuries annually. The cost of a backup camera is between $58 and $203 per vehicle. Approximately 70% of all new vehicles are either equipped with the cameras or have them as an option. For an article which describes blind zones, and compares the blind zones for many makes and models of cars, read “The Danger of Blind Zones”, published by Consumer Reports. To give an example, the best blind zone for a small four door sedan (with a driver at an average height of 5’ 8”) is found in a 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, at 9 feet, and the worst is in a 2011 Ford Fiesta, which has a blind zone totaling 19 feet.

The DOT has repeatedly postponed the deadline for enforcement of the legislation, from February of 2011, to December of 2011, to February of 2012. Presently, the agency intends to issue a final rule by January of 2015. However, the plaintiffs, which include the nonprofit groups Consumers Union of United States, Kids and Cars, Inc. and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, contend that had the law been implemented as required, countless lives would have been saved and thousands of injuries averted.

The Public Citizen lawsuit requests that the Court direct the USDOT to issue a mandatory rule within 90 days. In researching this story, I found an article published by Consumers Union almost seven years ago (on November 14, 2006) urging Congress to enact federal legislation to “prevent unacceptable death and injury toll or children.” In this instance, unlike the thoroughly ineffectual Congress we have at present, Congress did enact legislation in 2008, and five years later, the Department of Transportation is for some reason delaying full implementation of this legislation, which could lead to a universal requirement for backup cameras in all vehicles. With all the lives that have been lost since ‘08, and with such a cheap cost per vehicle, that is an outrage.

Despite the need for backup cameras, the best advice remains to get out of your vehicle before backing up whenever there is even the remotest possibility that infants (or pets) are behind the car in the “blind zone.”

Contact the Westchester County Personal Injury Lawyers at the Law Office of Mark A. Siesel online or toll free at 888-761-7633 if you or a family member are injured in a car crash, motorcycle accident, bus or truck accident, or on a construction site, for a free consultation to discuss your case in detail. Our experienced and dedicated litigators will fight the insurance companies and their attorneys from the inception of the case to trial to maximize your compensation for your physical and mental injuries, medical and hospital expenses, past and future lost earnings, and loss of enjoyment of life.

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