Consumers won a landmark victory last week: Starting in 2018 all new vehicles will be required to enable drivers to see what is directly behind them when they back up. This major consumer win was hard fought, and for good reason. It will save two lives each week.
The Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act -- signed by President George W. Bush in 2008 -- required increased rear visibility for American cars. The Act was named for Cameron Gulbransen, whose father accidentally backed over the two-year-old while parking his SUV one evening. As the lead sponsor of this legislation, I worked with a bipartisan group of legislators -- including then Senator Hillary Clinton, then Senator John Sununu and my colleague Congressman Peter King -- to get it enacted.
Hundreds of families, like the Gulbransens, have experienced the tragedy of losing a child from this type of accident. The Department of Transportation estimates that the new law will prevent 95 to 112 fatalities and 7,072 to 8,374 injuries annually. While it took far too long for federal regulators to implement the law, it would not have happened without the persistence of dedicated families who turned their personal tragedy into positive action by coming to Washington, D.C. to ask us to address this problem.
Consumer groups also helped get this law across the finish line, including KidsAndCars.org, Public Citizen, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and Consumers Union. Janette Fennell, founder and president of KidsAndCars.org, served as a leader for the impacted families, helping them to tell their stories. KidsAndCars.Org also began keeping data that the federal regulators weren't collecting -- data showing that an average 50 children are backed over by vehicles every week in the U.S.
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, used their auto test site to measure and publish the often enormous blind zones behind cars, SUVs, and pickups. This type of research has garnered media attention. CNN demonstrated when it sat 62 two-year-olds behind a Chevy Suburban, that the driver couldn't see a single one. That segment further illustrated that new mandatory protections were sorely needed.
DOT finally gave the rule a green light last week, and by 2018, all cars will have to meet rearward visibility standards, almost certainly with a rear camera installed. As a result, children and families will be far safer with these standards in place. The implementation of the rear visibility rule is a very important step in the right direction -- there is no doubt that it will save lives.
Stories and photos of children who've died in backovers are shown at http://www.kidsandcars.org/back-overs.html
Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (IL-09) is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and serves as the ranking member of the subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade. Sally Greenberg of National Consumers League contributed to this editorial.
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