Vehicle Reversing cameras, a real safety improvement?

Congratulations on a beach

Congratulations Jonny! You have the honour of posting Technology Bloggers 500th article – which is also your 125th! It is also the first post of Technology Bloggers fourth year. (Image Credit)

A car reversing cameraImage Credit
At the end of last month the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (USA) finalized long-delayed rules that will require automakers to install back-up cameras in all vehicles by May 2018. This was a long fought battle, the auto makers not wanting to be forced to adapt such measures.

And we must consider the costs, possibly between $500 and $900 million a year, to be borne by the purchaser, manufacturer and of course the state. The legislation is aimed at avoiding death or injury caused when drivers reverse over their own children or the elderly (the main victims in such accidents).

All well and good I say, maybe the rules will save some lives, and we should bear in mind that they did take 10 years to pass. But how many lives will they save?

A Typical view in reverse

We have to bear in mind that auto-mobile manufacturers estimate that upwards of 60% of all cars would have had the technology as standard by 2018, we are talking about the remaining 40%, so an incremental improvement on an already rolling ball. But how many people are killed each year in the USA in accidents of this type?

According to this article, fittingly enough from the Detroit News, 60 to 70 lives a year would be saved if all the fleet had rear view cameras, but of course as stated above 60% would have already had the cameras, so the legislation itself would save about 15 lives a year and save 1300 injuries. But how many injuries and deaths are there a year in the USA?

On average in recently in the USA there have been about 35 000 deaths and more than 2 million injured in motor accidents. According to the US Census Bureau most of those were caused by speeding and alcohol.

Now I would question the rationale of spending the amounts of money required to install cameras in all cars when the number of lives saved is going to be so small. We are talking about between 15 and 25 million dollars per life, when there may be better ways of spending this money and saving more lives.

If we look at the legislation in context, I think there are other questions that need to be asked too. The US government Distracted Driving website offers another bewildering array of statistics and related information, with mobile technology use once more taking the blame for accidents. But we might imagine that it is illegal to text and drive, but it is not in all states. Several states still allow you to send a text message while driving. Texas for example bans texting for bus drivers and novice drivers, and in school areas for everyone, but I can drive and text in Texas perfectly legally. Arizona only bans bus drivers from texting, and in south Carolina there are no rules about using mobile technology while driving.

Although road deaths have come down dramatically in the USA, those related to driver distraction have gone up. This could be related to changes in how the statistics are reported, or might be related to increased usage of mobile devices, I cannot tell that from the data provided in the census.

A table is available here that summarizes the current situation.

As a quick comparison in the UK you can be charged with reckless driving if you are involved in any accident, and texting and hand held telephone use is against the law. If you are eating or drinking however this can also be taken into account, and there is research that suggests that eating and drinking while driving can dramatically slow down reaction time. Check out this article in the Telegraph newspaper.

So I want to ask a serious question about this US legislation that we could ask about a lot of other legislation. Do these new rules really make driving safer, or do they make us feel that we are safer, or do they just make us feel that we are doing the right thing?

I don’t honestly believe that this legislation will really make driving much safer for anyone, although this is of course my own opinion. I am not making light of accidents that involve reversing over children or old people, but there must be plenty of more efficient ways of cutting down road deaths than this (like taking action to deter mobile phone or texting use for example).

5 thoughts on “Vehicle Reversing cameras, a real safety improvement?

  1. I wonder how many of the reversing accidents have alcohol involved anyway.

    Maybe they should also be legislating against vehicle design where you can’t see the back of the vehicle via the rear view mirrors.

    It does sound a bit like a feel good exercise as opposed to a logical use of funds.

    • I think the legislation is about vision rather than cameras, but there is no other practical solution. The manufacturers are asking to remove side mirrors and fit cameras which will improve petrol consumption, which seems reasonable. All until the system breaks down of course.

  2. I am really pleased to have posted 125 times and to have the honour of posting the 500th. I was a beginner when I wrote my first post here, that was also my first real blog post. It was almost 3 years ago, and although I say so myself I have learned a lot.
    I must say though that Christopher is at the heart of the blog and has his hands firmly on the controls. The new design is great, and all his own work. All of the technicalities are his, and I would not have written or been read so much had it not been for him.
    Roll on the next 500, thanks to everyone who has read and or commented, and I look forward to hearing from you all again and many new people.

  3. Very thoughtful 125th/500th post Jonny. When I was taught to drive, I understood that I had to look behind (and all around) me when reversing, and that having a full 360 degree picture of the surrounding area was so important that it was okay to take my seatbelt of to allow better movement – and vision.

    My mum’s car has reversing beeps so it lets her know how far she is from an object. These are useful, but I do worry that she may rely on them too much – technology does fail after all.

    I have seen reversing cameras in action – although I don’t think they are as popular in the UK yet. What happens if there is a delay in the camera or it is faulty? Also, surely it can’t give you a full picture of your surroundings.

    Ultimately economists have to try and put a value on life sometimes, as there is an opportunity cost of implementing a certain safety measure, and they may not always be very effective – as you suggest in this case.

    I think forcing the implementation of these cameras was probably not the best decision. Hopefully drivers will still be told that the camera is just there to assist you, not to do all the work.

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