Safety In Hindsight

This week, two children are going to die when a vehicle backs over them; 48 more are going to be injured the same way, in one week. On average, there are 267 fatalities and 15,000 injuries (6,000 of which are incapacitating) resulting from back-over crashes every year.

That’s what caused the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to finally, on March 31, 2014, issue a rule requiring manufacturers to install rearview camera displays in all new vehicles under 10,000 pounds by 2018. Of course, by that time, hundreds more will have been killed by drivers who couldn’t see them in their rearview mirror. The Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act of 2007 was signed into law by President Bush on February 28, 2008, requiring that the agency issue the rule within three years. So why did it take so long? And who was Cameron Gulbransen?

Cameron was a little boy in Nassau Co., NY. He was only two years old when his father backed the family’s SUV over him in their driveway. A physician, Dr. Gulbransen tried to save his son’s life, but to no avail. He said he didn’t know the child had followed him out of the house, and he didn’t see anything through the rear window because of the SUV’s large and dangerous blind spot. Now Dr. Gulbransen works to save other children from a similar fate.

He was one of the parties who filed a petition for writ of mandamus with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, asking the court to declare that the DOT unreasonably delayed issuing the rule requiring rear cameras by granting itself numerous extensions. In March, one day before the court was to hear arguments on the petition, the NHTSA announced the new rule and the 2018 deadline.

Who says lawsuits don’t bring about change? Granted, the wheels of change do turn slowly at times.

One of the other petitioners was Susan Auriemma of Manhasset, NY, who also was driving an SUV when she backed over her 3-year-old daughter in their driveway in 2005. NHTSA says 31 percent of the deaths from back-up accidents are children under 5 years old. In the Auriemma accident, thankfully, the child survived.

You’ve no doubt noticed that today’s vehicles are higher and often have smaller windows than models of the past, as well as thick pillars and tall headrests which can obstruct a driver’s view. Consumer Reports released a study of blind zones on popular types of vehicles. The blind zone of a Honda Accord is 12 feet, meaning the driver looking through the rear window cannot see objects closer than 12 feet from the back of the car. For minivans and SUVs, the distance increases. The Dodge Grand Caravan has a blind zone of 13 feet; for the Toyota Sequoia, it’s almost 15 feet; and the Chevrolet Avalanche blind zone measured nearly 30 feet. A Ford F-150 has a 33-foot blind zone. Even small cars can have big blind zones: For a 2005 Volkswagen Beetle convertible with its top down, it’s 52 feet.

The problem is exacerbated for short drivers; the blind zone almost doubles for drivers under 5 feet 1 inch tall. A short driver in a large SUV can have a blind zone nearly 40 feet long; in a pickup truck, it can be 50 feet.

The new rule for automakers requires a back-up camera that will show a field of vision at least 10 feet wide directly behind the vehicle, going back a minimum of 20 feet. It will be up to the automakers to decide whether they want to use an in-dash system or one on the rearview mirror.

When all cars on the road have rear-view cameras, our hindsight may not be 20/20, but it will sure be a lot better than it is now.

At McNeely Stephenson, we’ve been assisting people injured in car and truck crashes for more than thirty years. Our Indianapolis car accident lawyers can help if you or a loved one has been injured or suffered a wrongful death. Call us at 1-855-206-2555.