Technology won't trump human behavior in car accidents
A Senate committee chaired by Sen. Daniel Inouye plans to consider a bill aimed at preventing children from being run over by backing vehicles.
FOUR toddlers have died in recent months from being accidentally run over by motor vehicles being backed up outside of homes in Hawaii, bringing public attention to such dangers. Parents and others need to be more careful in such circumstances, but legislation aimed at requiring technology intended to somehow counter the human factor
is not the answer.
Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and John Sununu, R-N.H., have introduced a bill that would require all vehicles to be equipped with rear-view cameras, at an estimated cost of $300 per vehicle, alerting drivers to children or others behind their vehicles. The bill also would require power windows that automatically reverse when obstructed, preventing children from being strangled by kneeling on an armrest -- an extremely rare occurrence.
The bill is before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology, chaired by Sen. Daniel Inouye. Jennifer Sabas, his chief of staff, said Inouye is awaiting a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about current technology, although the agency issued a report about an extensive study completed in November.
According to the study, at least 183 fatalities and as many as 7,419 injuries caused by "backover" accidents occur annually. Four children age 2 or younger have died in such accidents in Hawaii since December.
Car manufacturers now offer rear-end devices marketed as parking aids, but the NHTSA study found their usefulness in preventing backover accidents to be limited. Ultrasonic and radar parking aids are "typically poor" in detecting children behind vehicles, the study found, while rain, fog or glare from the sun "can significantly reduce" the effectiveness of camera systems.
"Even if cameras allow the driver to identify an object in the back of a vehicle, the driver must look at the display and have the capability to identify an object or person in the path when backing up, and to react and brake quickly enough to prevent the incident," Ron Medford, NHTSA's senior associate for vehicle safety, told a Senate commerce subcommittee last month.
The question is whether a driver who has failed to make sure before entering the vehicle that no one is in or near the path at its rear will then use the technology to gain similar assurance. Human behavior, not lack of technology, is and will remain the key factor in such accidents, regardless of the rules Congress might impose on the auto industry.
While the usefulness of current technology to prevent backover accidents is dubious, the Clinton-Sununu bill's power-window proposal is absurd. Current law requires auto manufacturers to begin next year to install power window switches that not only must be recessed, but have to be pulled "up or out" to be operated, Medford reminded the Senate panel.