Can Rear-View Cameras Make SUVs Safer?

SUVs have long been perceived by purchasers as providing added “safety,” presumably by giving a commanding view through the windshield and some extra space between driver and metal shell. Of course, there are also a few downsides to driving a vehicle the size of a seafaring yacht.

One of them is that drivers of SUVs and light trucks, having limited rear visibility, have been backing over their own children in their driveways. These types of collisions are four times more likely to be fatal if the vehicle involved is of the extra-large type.

Limited rear visibility in SUVs and light trucks is a safety concern. But will the government's solution make matters worse? ##http://www.mgh.org/press/blind_spots.html## Marquette General Health System##

To address the problem, the U.S. DOT has decided to mandate rear-looking cameras in all automobiles [PDF]. Network blog Systemic Failure wonders whether this new regulation will give motorists the information they need to drive more carefully, or embolden them to the point of carelessness, further undermining safety:

The real question will be whether this regulation will be another test case for the theory of risk compensation. Proponents of risk compensation argue that drivers accept a certain level of risk. Rather than use safety devices to minimize risk, they instead use them to drive more aggressively. For example, exploiting anti-lock brakes to go faster down a snowy highway. This behavior has been observed on almost every safety innovation, even safety belts and motorcycle helmets.

The theory of risk compensation predicts that backup cameras will at best have no affect, and at worse cause an increase in fatalities. Once the camera shows the “all clear”, will drivers still take the time to look back and properly assess their surroundings? Or will they just go flying out of the driveway?

Elsewhere on the Network today: Market Urbanism chastises the EPA for enforcing environmental regulations that undermine the value of residential compactness — an important ingredient in sustainable communities. Community activists in Oakland prepare to take on the car-based orientation of a local McDonald’s, reports Living in the O. And Discovering Urbanism outlines strategies for making sure transit oriented developments are affordable and make proper use of transit amenities.

  • Andy

    Safety devices nearly always fail to improve safety.
    – Increase the crumple zone and people will drive faster
    – Install mirrors and people will rely on those and not check blind spots
    – Add backing beepers and sensors and people will just start backing hoping that any one in the way would move
    – Anti-lock brakes – they’ll drive faster in poor weather
    – Winter tires and they’ll drive in poor conditions

    The list could go on forever. Someone crunched a family member’s door in, because they were backing their SUV and their beepy sensor didn’t go off. There’s just no substitute for looking and being aware, and all these “safety” add-ons make the companies more money and gives them more to advertise about.

  • BB

    Where’s the black box?

    We have had these things since the 1960s.

    O sir/madam you were speeding = negligent.

    How about a cock pit voice recorder?

    O yea so you were talking on your phone.

    So where are these things we so need?

  • Peter F

    What about some sort of proximity alert? I rented a Renault in France a few years ago and when ever you put it in reverse, it activated a proximity sensor, so that when ever I got close to something it started beeping inside the car. The closer I got the faster it beeped.

    I don’t know if it was sensitive enough to detect a small child but I don’t see why something like that couldn’t be made.

    Plus it has the advantage that an aural alert leaves your eyes free to be looking around for other people about to walk behind you. The problem with backup cameras is you have to watch the camera and thus might not see what else is going on around you.

  • bikermark

    Andy: we’re less safe because all those passive safety features ensure that the truly stupid, instead of being culled, will live to drive again another day.

    It all goes back to the individual behind the wheel. And NHTSA would rather mandate expensive safety devices than pry the lid off state DMVs to examine how they are licensing drivers.

    I’ve now held a license in Virginia, Maryland, and DC. And in each case, the DMV was more intent on screening for terrorists than they were with making sure I knew how to operate a motor vehicle.

  • a.v.

    I find the cameras not very useful, except for getting as close as possible to the car behind you while parallel parking. The ones I’ve seen are only helpful at spotting 12 or 18 inches behind the bumper.

  • Bob Davis

    There’s no substitute for “safety sense”. People who work for public utilities (such as myself before I retired) are required to attend safety meetings where everything from CPR to defensive driving to snakebites is discussed. If part of renewing one’s driver’s license was showing that one had attended periodic road-safety classes, we might see the “body count” go down. It has long been my contention that driver licensing is deliberately kept “inclusive”, to promote car sales and advertising revenue. There’s also the thought that if licensing became more “exclusive”, the drivers who didn’t “make the cut” (and had to depend on transit and taxicabs) would be most disgruntled and want to vote whoever passed the restrictive legislation out of office.

  • A

    This is so blindingly obvious to me that I can’t believe carmarkers do this. There’s an Audi or Lexus or something that has lane detectors that’ll alert you if there’s a car where you’re trying to merge…I hope to the high heavens that I never find myself riding next to one.

  • So many mandatory safety features for cars….

    And yet lights still aren’t required on new bikes. WTF?

  • Here’s my nomination for next week’s Streetsblog Network Roundup: “How to Talk About Cycling to A Conservative” in Commute By Bike. Now that the transportation alternatives debate is really heating, a must read for any cycling advocate–and especially you, Gecko!

  • I responded to the original post, and nobody’s followed up, so I post here:

    According to the wikipedia article, Risk Compensation Theory involves people engaging in more risky behavior because safety devices are protecting them. How does a backup camera, which protects people outside of the vehicle by making them more visible, fall into this category?

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