Nearly all new passenger vehicles are expected to have rearview cameras by May 2018 under a new rule issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The regulation is designed to reduce backover crashes involving children and other pedestrians and was several years in the making. Congress directed the agency in 2008 to expand the required field of view behind a vehicle.
The rule, which applies to vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds, doesn’t explicitly require cameras. However, many of the requirements currently can be met only with cameras. The field of view must include a 10-foot by 20-foot zone directly behind the vehicle and must display specific portions of seven 32-inch-tall cylinders placed along the perimeter of that zone. The rule also includes specific requirements for image size, default view and other characteristics.
A recent IIHS study indicated that rear cameras could help prevent backover crashes involving people in a vehicle’s blind zone. The study, which relied on volunteer drivers, showed that cameras are more effective than parking sensors at helping drivers see and avoid a child-size object placed behind the vehicle (see "Preventing driveway tragedies: Rear cameras help drivers see behind them," March 13, 2014).
An estimated 267 people are killed and 15,000 injured each year by drivers who back into them, usually in driveways or parking lots. Young children and elderly people are most likely to be killed in such crashes. About 210 of the fatalities involve vehicles under 10,000 pounds. NHTSA estimates that 58 to 69 lives will be saved each year once every vehicle under 10,000 pounds on the road is equipped with a rear visibility system.
NHTSA also expects the systems to reduce crashes that result in property damage only. HLDI studies of insurance data for Mazda and Mercedes-Benz vehicles equipped with rear cameras didn’t show consistent reductions in claims (see Status Report special issue: crash avoidance, July 3, 2012).
Rearview cameras are becoming common in new vehicles. NHTSA estimates that even without the rule, 73 percent of the vehicles covered by it would have been sold with rear camera systems by 2018. However, some automakers may have been incorporating the technology in anticipation of the requirement, rather than as a result of market demand.
The rise of rear cameras has prompted automakers to contemplate more comprehensive camera systems that could take the place of side mirrors. Removing side mirrors would reduce a vehicle’s aerodynamic drag, improving fuel economy. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Tesla Motors recently petitioned NHTSA to allow camera systems as a compliance option to meet the performance requirements for mirrors.
“Cameras are a great tool for enhancing rear visibility, but if they are going to replace side mirrors, they have to work properly in all kinds of weather and lighting conditions,” says David Zuby, IIHS executive vice president and chief research officer. “There also needs to be more research into how drivers use camera information to make sure they would be able to adjust safely to this change.”
Current camera systems aren’t perfect. In the Institute study, for example, drivers frequently hit a stationary object when it was in the shade even if they were looking at the camera display.
A certain amount of direct visibility by means of over-the-shoulder glances also is important. In comments to NHTSA, the Institute has cautioned against cameras being used as a justification for vehicle designs that limit visibility (see "Preventing driveway tragedies: Rear cameras help drivers see behind them," March 13, 2014). Many drivers still rely on direct glances to get their bearings before backing up.
The rear camera requirement will be phased in beginning May 1, 2016. Ten percent of vehicles manufactured the first year must meet the field-of-view requirement only, and 40 percent must meet it the following year. All vehicles produced after May 1, 2018, must meet the field-of-view requirement, as well as all the other performance requirements.