NHTSA Orders All Cars to Have Rear View Safety Tech

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After years of delay, the U.S. National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a final rule requiring vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or less to be equipped with a rear-view visibility system by 2018. Congress first passed legislation requiring rear visibility standards in 2008 but the NHTSA failed to produced a rule until just today.

In its announcement of the rule, the NHTSA said that there are 210 fatalities and 15,000 injuries annually attributed to what the agency calls backover crashes. Children under the age of 5 account for 31% and seniors older than 70 account for 26% of the fatalities.

Much of the delay in implementing a rule is due to automakers’ concerns about the cost of such a system. In 2013, the NHTSA estimated an added cost to car buyers of $159 to $203 per vehicle for a camera-and-display screen. The industry countered by saying that it would cost $2.7 billion a year, or less than $175 per light vehicle sold in the U.S. last year.

Adding just a camera to vehicles already equipped with a screen would cost between $58 and $88. For vehicles in model year 2012, 44% of cars came with rear cameras as standard equipment and another 27% had the systems available as an option. Nine in ten new cars already had display screens in 2013.

A year ago the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers claimed that buyers should decide if they want to pay for the rear-view visibility systems as optional equipment, “This is a decision for consumers” the group’s vice-president told the AP. In response to today’s announcement the group issued a statement claiming that two-thirds of the country’s 50 best selling cars already offer rear-view cameras either as a standard feature or an option.

But the Alliance isn’t backing off its stance that drivers should get to choose which safety features they pay for:

[W]e know our customers have their own preferences among new technologies. It is one of our core beliefs that consumers should be in the driver’s seat when choosing which technologies they want to purchase.

You are unlikely to hear individual automakers complaining though. General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) just recalled over 3 million vehicles for a number of issues on a variety of models, including one that is linked to 13 deaths. Whining about a safety device that can save the lives of some 60 toddlers a year for less than $200 is not part of the company’s new strategy. And very likely that is not a part of any other car maker’s strategy either.

One company getting a bit of a boost from the announcement is Gentex Corp. (NASDAQ: GNTX). The firm makes the automatic dimming rear-view mirrors and other automobile electronics. The company’s shares are up about 2.4% at $31.56 in a 52-week range of $19.01 to $34.41.

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