For Fewer Crushed Children, Feds Mandate Rear-View Cameras For All Cars by 2014


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has mandated that all vehicles come equipped with a rear-view camera by 2014, The New York Times and Bloomberg Businessweek report. The impetus for this mandate came from KidsAndCars.org, "a nonprofit group that pushed the government to begin tracking" backover accidents, which occur when a driver doesn't see a pedestrian in his or her blind spot while backing up.

According to the Fact Sheet for Backovers on KidsAndCars.org, 70% of backover accidents involving small children occur when a parent or other relative is driving the car.

Other statistics for backover accidents are much less heartrending, calling into question the need for government intervention. According to The New York Times article:

[R]egulators say that 95 to 112 deaths and as many as 8,374 injuries could be avoided each year by eliminating the wide blind spot behind a vehicle. Government statistics indicate that 228 people of all ages — 44 percent of whom are under age 5 — die every year in backover accidents involving passenger vehicles. About 17,000 people a year are injured in such accidents.

With costs for the new regulation estimated at $2.7 billion a year or $200 per vehicle, that's $12 million per life saved if the regulation were 100 percent effective. Bloomberg Businessweek reports a more generous reduction in deaths, by 146 a year. But even then, the cost per life saved is still $18.5 million. That's almost five times the lifetime earnings of someone with a professional degree, nine times the amount someone would earn with a bachelor's degree and fifteen times the amount someone would earn with just a high school diploma, based on data from 1999.

The financial costs of this regulation would come in addition to the $1,300 per car from the Obama recent changes to the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) law; not to mention every local police department's favorite revenue generators, brake light and seat belt laws.

Obviously people should be careful while driving, but all of these regulations add to the cost of production and ultimately make American-built cars less competitive. Besides that, Bloomberg reports that "back-up cameras are already a standard feature on 45 percent of 2012 passenger-car models, according to data compiled by Edmunds.com, an auto-market research company," showing that voluntary enterprise was moving in this direction prior to the mandate. Furthermore, it's an inefficient solution:

The length of a rearview blind spot depends on the car's make and the driver's height. On coupes and sedans, which sit low to the ground, the blind spot can be as little as four feet. On taller SUVs, it can be 20 feet or more. By requiring cameras on all cars, NHTSA imposed an expensive, "one-size-fits-all solution" to the problem, Bergquist contends.

This reveals a certain laziness in the decision-making. Legislators put minimum effort into finding the most cost-efficient solution to this problem and failed to consider that car design isn't really their job in the first place. Clearly, when considering the fact that most backover accidents involve the parent or relative of a child, the right course of action would be legislation that prohibits parents and relatives of children from driving in the first place.

Read about more silly, commerce-killing regulations, thinking of the children, and how to back it up the right way.