Judy Neiman ran over her 9-year-old daughter, Sydnee, accidentally with her own SUV while backing up. To this day, the mother tortures herself with thoughts of how she could have missed seeing the girl, who survived four open heart surgeries, but did not recover from the injuries she suffered in the accident. According to an Associated Press news report, Neiman now lobbies to make it mandatory for auto manufacturers to improve the visibility behind passenger vehicles to help prevent such fatal backing crashes. Although President George W. Bush signed a measure into law five years ago requiring such standards for automakers, they have yet to be mandated because of delays by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Lives Lost in Backing Crashes
Every year, 228 people are killed in fatal backing crashes, about half of them (110) children age 10 and under. The Department of Transportation under Secretary Ray LaHood has pushed the deadline to issue the new guidelines for car manufacturers three times. Advocates and anguished parents such as Neiman are asking why it should take so long to fix an issue that was recognized as a serious problem by lawmakers and government regulators several decades ago. Safety advocates call it a “death sentence” especially for young children who are most often the victims in such fatal backing crashes.
The proposed regulations, including expanding the field of view for vehicles by including rearview cameras and video displays as standard equipment, could have saved many lives if they had been implemented. While LaHood says his agency needs more time to ensure that the research is thorough and that the final rule is appropriate, others insist that the issue is money and a reluctance to impose financial burdens on an industry that is plagued by economic problems.
Putting Consumer Safety First
It is about time that these standards become mandatory for every vehicle that is driven in the United States. According to government estimates, making rear cameras standard on every car would add $58 to $88 to the price of vehicles that are already equipped with dashboard display screens and $159 to $203 for those without them. Compare that cost to how much automakers pay lobbyists – about $2 billion a year! These lobbyists are bargaining with officials to require cameras only in vehicles with extra-large blind zones and outfitting others with curved, wide-angle exterior mirrors.
It is appalling that automakers who have this technology readily available, will not install it in their vehicles because it makes the car expensive by $200. Is saving $200 on a vehicle worth a young life? Is it worth the wasted potential, the grief caused to parents and family members? Are profits more important than people? These automakers spend $2 billion on lobbyists to make sure that their bottom line is protected. Of course, they put profits before people. As auto products liability attorneys who have represented injured victims of defective autos and their families, we have seen them do it time and again. We can only hope that the government puts these regulations in place before more innocent lives are lost.