Time to Call BS: Why Safety Groups Sued DOT Over Backover Rule Delay

Last week, a consortium of safety groups and advocates decided it had had enough of the delay tactics in publishing a final rule establishing a rear visibility standard and sued the Department of Transportation.

“We are going through the motions of trying to put pressure on the system to cough out the rule,” says attorney Henry Jasny of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “We’ve got a new Secretary of Transportation, and to help him along we figured we’d get the court involved.”

The petitioners before the U.S. Court Of Appeals’ Second Circuit in New York includes three organizations – KidsAndCars, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and Consumers Union – and two New York residents who have backed over their children – Sue Auriemma of Manhasset and pediatrician Greg Gulbransen of Syosset. The 2008 Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act was named for two-year old Cameron Gulbransen, who was killed when his father accidentally backed over him in the family’s driveway. It required the agency to issue a Final Rule amending Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) 111, the rearview mirror standard, to, for the first time, define what a driver sees in the rear when backing up to detect pedestrians immediately behind his or her vehicle. The law forced the agency to address a significant design flaw – especially in SUVs – of expanded blind zones caused by the vehicle’s height and bulk. Dramatic pictures from KidsAndCars shows as many as 62 children arrayed directly behind an SUV that would be unseen by driver checking the rearview mirrors.

[flashvideo file=video/KAC_62Children30.flv image="video/KAC_62Children30_Preview.jpg" /]

The original statutory deadline was February 28, 2011, but the Final Rule has been delayed four times, and now is on track to be completed four years after the deadline. In one of his last acts, former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood sent another letter to Congress delaying the issuance of a Final Rule until January 2015. (The new Secretary of Transportation, former Charlotte, North Carolina Mayor Anthony Foxx, started in July.)

A Better Way to Spot the Tot: Rear View Cameras!

Four years after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tried to take the public education route around the problem of backovers caused by vehicles with poor rearward visibility, the agency is proposing the first-ever safety standard to stem the flow of pedestrian injury and death.

Friday, NHTSA announced that it was a rearview visibility performance standard, specifying what the driver should be able to see, which would most likely compel automakers to install rear-mounted cameras and in-board vehicle displays in all new vehicles by 2014. The agency was rushing to meet a statutory February 28, 2011 deadline for a Final Rule.

No small measure of thanks is due to the persistence of Janette Fennell and her advocacy organization, KidsAndCars.org. Longtime activist Fennell began collecting data on backover injury and death more than a decade ago. At the time, NHTSA refused to acknowledge the problem because nearly all of the incidents occurred in private driveways rather than on public roads.

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