Congress should enact bill to protect keiki near vehicles
A Senate committee headed by Daniel Inouye has endorsed a bill aimed at protecting children in or near motor vehicles.
DEATHS of four toddlers accidentally run over by SUVs or light trucks pulling away from their homes in Hawaii in recent months brought needed attention to such blind zones. Legislation that would prod the Department of Transportation to seek auto industry standards to combat such dangers deserves enactment.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, under the leadership of Chairman Daniel Inouye, approved the measure last month. The legislation modifies a bill that would have required all vehicles to be equipped with back-up cameras and with power windows that automatically reverse when obstructed.
Instead, the bill calls for allowing automakers to use any technology to achieve a rear visibility "performance standard." The Transportation Department estimates that the cost of a rearview camera would be about $325, but the price could plummet if required as standard equipment. Rear bumper sensors are another technology used for avoiding such accidents.
The bill would direct the transportation secretary to consider a rule requiring installation of reverse power windows within 30 months and report to Congress if deciding to reject such a requirement. Existing law requires automakers next year to install recessed power window switches that must be pulled up to be operated, which might be sufficient.
The bill also would require the industry to prevent children from putting a vehicle with automatic transmissions into gear by requiring the driver to step on the brake pedal before it can be moved from "park." Most vehicles already are equipped with such a feature at a cost of only $5.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported in November that at least 183 fatalities and as many as 7,419 injuries a year are caused by "backover" accidents. The legislation would require the department to routinely collect information about deaths and injuries to children in and around vehicles.
Four children in Hawaii ages 2 or younger were killed from December through April after being run over by vehicles pulling away from their homes. Consumer Reports magazine has reported that SUVs, pickups and minivans have extraordinary blind zones that extend as much as 50 feet from the rear bumper.
The legislation also would make the department disseminate information about safety hazards for children in the proximity of motor vehicles. That human factor will continue to be paramount, regardless of technology.
Ron Medford, the NHTSA's senior associate for vehicle safety, told a Senate commerce subcommittee in March that a driver must look at the rearview display "when backing up, and to react and brake quickly enough to prevent the incident." With or without such technology, the driver must be assured that no child is nearby.
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