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A mother’s anguish lives on
Delays litter road to rules on vehicle rearview cameras
SAN FRANCISCO — In the private hell of a mother’s grief, the sounds come back to Judy Neiman. The SUV door slamming. The slight bump as she backed up in the bank parking lot. The emergency room doctor’s sobs as he said her 9-year-old daughter Sydnee, who had survived four open-heart surgeries, would not make it this time.
Her own cries of: “How could I have missed seeing her?”
The 53-year-old woman has sentenced herself to go on living in the awful stillness of her West Richland, Wash., home, where she makes a plea for what she wants: more steps taken by the government and automakers to help prevent parents from accidentally killing their children, as she did a year ago this month.
“They have to do something, because I’ve read about it happening to other people. I read about it and I said, ‘I would die if it happens to me,’” Ms. Neiman says. “Then it did happen to me.”
There is, in fact, a law that calls for manufacturers to improve the visibility behind passenger vehicles to help prevent such fatal backing crashes, which the government estimates kill some 228 people every year — 110 of them children age 10 and younger — and injure another 17,000.
Congress passed the measure with strong bipartisan backing, and President George W. Bush signed it in 2008.
But almost five years later, the standards have yet to be mandated because of delays by the Department of Transportation, which faced a Feb. 28, 2011, deadline to issue the new guidelines for car manufacturers. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has pushed back that deadline three times — promising in February that the rules would be issued by year’s end.
The proposed regulations call for expanding the field of view for cars, vans, SUVs and pickup trucks so drivers can see directly behind their vehicles when in reverse — requiring, in most cases, rearview cameras and video displays as standard equipment.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, charged with completing the new standards, declined requests to discuss the delays.
Others insist the issue is money and reluctance to put any additional financial burdens on an industry crippled by the economic crisis. Development of the new safety standards came even as the Obama administration was pumping billions of dollars into the industry as part of its bailout package.
NHTSA has estimated that making rear cameras standard on every car would add $58 to $88 to the price of vehicles already equipped with dashboard display screens and $159 to $203 for those without them.
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a lobbying group that represents automakers, puts the total cost to the industry at about $2 billion a year. Last December, the group met with White House budget officials to propose a less expensive alternative: reserving cameras for vehicles with extra-large blind zones and outfitting the rest with curved, wide-angle exterior mirrors.
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