May 25, 2024

Senator proposes requiring front cameras on cars to stop ‘frontover’ deaths

3 min read

Vehicle sight lines are in the news again, pushed to the foreground in recent years due to rising pedestrian deaths. When a parent accidentally drives into a child in a driveway resulting in injury or death, it’s called a “frontover,” and these are climbing as well. NBC News looked at the data and cited a demonstration it covered at Consumer Reports‘ proving ground with U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal in attendance. After a demo in which the 5’10” Blumenthal couldn’t see 12 children ages 6-10 sitting in front of a large SUV while he was in the driver’s seat — a finding we have a few questions about — Blumenthal wrote a letter to Stephen Cliff, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about a number of issues, including the lack of front cameras in vehicles. He told NBC News, “I really am deeply disappointed [automakers are] not offering these devices more widely, but we’ll mandate them if necessary. … We need these devices on all cars to save lives.”

The story appears to add more meat to a story by Indiana NBC affiliate WTHR that ran at the end of August and used some findings from WTHR’s story on the same topic done in 2019, and two NBC Washington stories that ran in July and August this year.  

The danger isn’t new, and can be credited with leading to legislation years ago that mandated backup cameras. In 2003, ABC News ran a report titled, “Big Vehicle Blind Spots Leaving Kids Dead” that led with the story of a man backing over his 2-year-old in his driveway. A safety advocate quoted in the piece said, “Everyone is driving the minivan, the SUV, the pickup truck, the crossover — and they’re higher, they’re bigger and you can’t see behind them.” We all know how much bigger, heavier, and more popular those SUVs are now. ABC wrote that then-House Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., “is planning to introduce legislation this week that would require the government to start keeping track of non-traffic non crash incidents, such as driveway back-over accidents. The bill would also require auto regulators to evaluate new technologies such as rearview cameras and sensors that may help prevent these accidents.”

Blumenthal, who sits on the Senate committee overseeing NHTSA, had record-keeping questions for the agency as well. The 2008 law that mandated backover accident data requires frontover data, too. That’s apparently not been happening as ordered, Blumenthal calling the agency’s data in this regard “lacking” and not timely. NBC News said the figures showed “in the most recent five years’ data available, forward-moving deaths climbed, backward-moving deaths stayed relatively flat.” The number of children killed in frontovers annually has doubled, from 251 in 2008 to 536 in 2020. Some safety groups believe that number is low.

When NBC News asked the Alliance for Automotive Innovation about the matter of front cameras, the Alliance responded, “Safety is a top priority of the auto industry,” adding, “Vehicles continue to get even more safe as automakers across the board test, develop and integrate new safety technologies that can help save lives and prevent injuries.”

It seems inevitable that front cameras or sensors will be mandated one day. The aerodynamic mandates of electric vehicles can improve sight lines, so we’ll see what happens as industry moves in that direction. While that happens, though, on the ICE side, it seems likely that the confluence of safety requirements, design trends, and buyer tastes will see ICE vehicles get even larger and heavier.

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