Looking Backward, Seeing Nothing

Note: This is not an end-of-year review post, reflecting on lessons learned in 2012. Given the date, and the title, it might have been, but it’s not. Sorry if you feel misled.

While abuse of the “do it for the children” rationale is rampant, there are times when it is precisely appropriate.  At those times, the irony of needless initiatives enacted under such appeals to emotion moving forward at lightning speed while worthwhile initiative languish becomes even more pronounced. This post reflects one of those sad ironies. 

From Newsday:

In 2003, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) introduced the Cameron Gulbransen Kids and Cars Safety Act, named for a 2-year-old Woodbury boy whose pediatrician father backed over him in their driveway. Five years later, Congress passed the measure with strong bipartisan backing, and President George W. Bush signed it in 2008.

But almost another five years later, the standards have yet to be mandated because of delays by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which failed to meet a Feb. 28, 2011, deadline to issue the new guidelines to car companies.

Greg Gulbransen, an Oyster Bay pediatrician, back over his 2-year-old son because he didn’t see him behind his car.  I know Greg. Dr. SJ knows Greg.  He was my children’s ped. An excellent doc and a good man. This was the most heart-breaking event in his life. 

While it might have been overreaching to demand a cure to this tragedy if it was just one man’s mistake, it turned out to be a fairly pervasive problem.

The government estimates such accidents kill 228 people a year — 110 of them young children — and injures another 17,000.

At the same time, the auto industry already had a ready solution in hand, in use, and available: Rearview cameras.  The chief complaint against the cameras was cost.

The NHTSA estimates that making rear cameras standard on every car would add $58 to $88 to those already equipped with dashboard display screens, and $159 to $203 for those without them.

There were two chief arguments favoring the mandate, that it would resolve a common problem that impacted many people, some of whom were small children who lost their lives.  And secondly, car makers were more than happy to put rearview cameras in vehicles as selling points, as people desired them and they made the cars more appealing to potential purchasers.

The flip side of the problem is that cars that would sell regardless of cameras didn’t need them to close the deal, and so car manufacturers could safely leave out the cameras without a fear of losing sales.  The money issue cut both ways, where the inclusion of the camera cost a bit, but was worth it if it sold the car, but if not, then cutting cameras out of the car put that much more in the manufacturer’s pocket.

When Dr. SJ bought her first Prius, it came standard with a rearview camera. Back then, Toyota wasn’t sure whether it’s hybrid experiment would work, and wanted to beef up the safety features of the car to make it as appealing to buyers as possible. 

When Dr. SJ bought her most recent Prius, the camera was gone, though it could be added in for a ridiculous amount of money. Toyota’s Prius was a firmly established model, and they left out everything they could get away with this time around. No need for frills when your model is hot.  Even without the rearview camera, the car cost a whole lot more this time around.

As we wave good-bye to 2012, we come up to the ten year anniversary of the law mandating rearview cameras, and yet it has still not been implemented.

But almost another five years later, the standards have yet to be mandated because of delays by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which failed to meet a Feb. 28, 2011, deadline to issue the new guidelines to car companies.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has changed that deadline three times — promising in February that the rules would be issued by year’s end.

“By year’s end” would refer to this year. It didn’t happen.  The explanation is decidedly unavailing:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, charged with completing the new standards, declined requests to discuss the delays.

Spokeswoman Karen Aldana said the agency would not comment while the rule-making process was ongoing, but asserted it was on track to meet LaHood’s latest cutoff date.

In his February letter to lawmakers, LaHood said his agency needed more time for “research and data analysis” to “ensure that the final rule is appropriate and the underlying analysis is robust.”

Ten years without anything, and LaHood’s best argument is that they want the “final rule” to be “appropriate”?

They pass laws criminalizing speech about bullying, to bolster the self-esteem of delicate teacups, in hours.  They pass laws authorizing the warrantless search of electronic communications, so that law enforcement is never forced to suffer the indignity of seeking a warrant, without delay.  Ten years later, there are no regulations mandating the auto manufacturers include rearview cameras that they are more than happy to throw into vehicles at the request of the marketing department.

As much as the law can’t create the perfect world that so many want to believe it can, this is one fix that the law can easily mandate, and it will save the lives of children.  And it’s as dead today as Greg Gulbransen’s beautiful 2-year-old son Cameron

11 comments on “Looking Backward, Seeing Nothing

  1. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    Scott, there’s no need for the upfront apology. I didn’t feel misled by the title and plus, I saw a movie once when I was but a wee lad and have always remembered this line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry . . .”

    Regarding the actual contents of the post, I wholeheartedly agree – the cameras will save lives, and mostly children’s lives at that, with seemingly little downside with the exception of possibly, but not necessarily, slightly slimmer margins for the auto industry.

    I believe that with the right design and option packages beyond the basic mandated camera system, the up sell potential would be huge – like maybe a 360° view around the car, you know, similar to choosing the eight airbag package instead of the minimum configuration. Many people do extra pay for bells and whistles, especially if there is a safety tie-in.

    But I do have to respectfully ask, how exactly is this issue that much different than the alcohol-interlock device discussion we had a few months back?? Generally, assuming the technology behind the interlock-device is solid, I support it. Mainly because I had a dear friend killed, now over two years ago, by a drunk driver and it still hurts every time I think about her. So for me, it is personal and I may have lost some perspective. But that doesn’t seem so dissimilar to your story on the camera issue . . .

  2. SHG

    I would like to tell you that you ask a good question, but I can’t. There is nothing analagous whatsoever, so your mixing apples with Fords.  The issue with the alcohol interlock isn’t a financial issue (though that might be raised if it was ever to happen), but a burden on the many innocents to stop the few guilty. No similar issue exists with rearview cameras. There is just nothing comparable about the two.

  3. John David Galt

    Why inflict an extra cost of $150 per car on millions who won’t need it, just so one or two careless parents can get away with pretending their own plain old negligence was not the problem?

  4. BDK

    The case for this law may not be as cut and dried as you imply. A rear camera is an additional distraction to many drivers, and could end up causing as many accidents as it saves. Have comparisons been made between accident statistics for vehicles with and without cameras to ensure the cameras actually improve vehicle safety? You don’t mention any. Also, the driver must actually *look* at the camera, not just have one. And it must be in working order and not obstructed (covered with dirt and mud) in any way. To ensure proper working order, the driver must circle behind the vehicle and check the camera before using the vehicle, which would solve the original problem without resorting to a camera. Finally, an object sensor with audio alarm installed in the rear of the vehicle would be cheaper and more effective. I have driven a van equipped with the audio system, and one with a video system, both for several years, and the audio system was much, much better.

  5. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    But SHG, Apples DO mix with Fords; in fact, all Ford cars now come with Apple iStuff integration as a standard feature . . .

    So let me ask a less stupid question: would you be more OK with alcohol detection technology that was only somewhat passive-aggressive??

    It would work like this – car starts, drunkenness of driver is continuously detected, but if the driver isn’t impaired, everything goes just like normal; however, if the driver is gassed to the gills, the system screams, intermittently, at the driver – random things like, “Hey idiot, you’re drunk off your ass again. You shouldn’t be driving right now”, or “Numbnutz, you’ve had about five too many. If you don’t pull over and stop driving, you’re gonna kill innocent women and children. How will you be able to live with yourself then??”, or maybe “You’re driving like shit right now; if you don’t knock it off, I’ll be forced to call your wife and/or mother.” . . .

  6. SHG

    This isn’t a post about your issue, alcohol detection technology. Much as it may be fascinating to you to discuss your issue, notwithstanding the fact that it has nothing to do with this post, hijacking comments to suit your interest isn’t welcome. Another boundary.

  7. Dr. Sigmund Droid

    And a Happy & Prosperous New Year to You Too, Greenfield . . .

    My resolution?? Something to do with boundaries; though I haven’t decided yet whether involves thinking more or less about them . . .

  8. Marc

    I drive my wife’s minivan quite a bit ( yeah, I admit it) and it is equipped with both a rear camera and audio alarm system. And I concur with BDK that the audio proximity alarm system is a superior system. The camera requires attention to the center of the console rather than having full 360 awareness not only with the mirrors looking back, but also looking to each side to look for approaching hazards. And the audio alarm is an alert that you don’t ignore.

    However, it can also be turned off because it can be annoying (which is why it works . . .). That is an advantage the rear view camera enjoys because it is not easily defeatable by turning off a switch.

    But the underlying point of the post is equally valid for either system – DOT needs to get of their collective rears and issues some regulations and then evaluate the results. Then if they need to make changes, make changes. If they wait for “appropriate regulations” then they will wait forever. As usual in government, the perfect is the enemy of the good.

  9. SHG

    Exactly. With nothing having been done in 10 years, arguing over which system is better is foolish. Any system is better than no system.

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