Rearview cameras helpful, but backing is still dangerous

Many vehicles are now equipped with a rearview camera, which shows the most promising technology for avoiding back-up collisions.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says an estimated 292 people are killed and 18,000 injured each year by drivers who back into them, usually in driveways or parking lots. Young children and elderly people are most at risk. It is difficult for drivers to see objects behind their vehicles because of blind spots, especially objects low to the ground.

In the March 2014 issue of “Status Report” from the IIHS, large SUVs were found to have the worst rear visibility. However, adding technology, such as a back-up camera, reduced the blind spot by about 90 percent on average. Parking sensors, which use ultrasonic sound waves or radar to detect objects around the vehicle, also reduced the blind zones, but not as much, according the studies by the IIHS.

However beneficial rearview cameras are, don’t expect perfection, or even close to it. In an interesting study on how drivers use technology, the IIHS used volunteers driving a mid-sized SUV. The purpose of the study was disguised from the volunteers, who were told they were there to evaluate the SUVs entertainment and information systems. After completing some parking maneuvers and tasks such as tuning the radio and reading from a navigation display, the volunteer drivers were told to back out of a spot and return to where they left their own vehicles. As they backed out, a form cutout of a child-size crash test dummy was put in the vehicle’s backing path. In some cases the foam dummy was stationary behind the vehicle, and in some cases it moved into the vehicle’s path from the driver’s side. Few of the volunteers hit the object if it was moving, and neither the backup camera nor the parking sensors provided a statistically significant benefit. However, the proportion of drivers who collided with the stationary object was four times as large as the proportion that collided with the moving object.

Most interesting was that even though drivers with the rearview camera had the fewest collisions with the stationary object, 56 percent of them still hit it. In contrast, however, and this is really scary, ALL the drivers who had no technology hit the stationary object. All this proves what these traffic safety articles have been preaching for years now: Always try to AVOID BACKING, PERIOD! Obviously this is not possible, but we all can certainly reduce our backing with a little forethought.

Furthermore, according to the IIHS’s study, rearview cameras didn’t prevent all collisions, even when properly used. In the real world, lighting and weather conditions will affect the usefulness of cameras. Those of us with these cameras know what effect snow has on them and of the importance to clean off the camera eye before starting out.

So utilize the technology whenever possible, but also be aware of its limitations.

For more articles on Vehicle and Traffic Law and traffic safety, visit the Traffic Safety Board’s website, and click on the Traffic Safety Board from the pull-down menu under departments. “Like” us on Facebook as well. You may also call me, Dave Werner, at 518-483-1882 with your comments and questions or email me at