• Sep 25th 2013 at 2:17PM
  • 213
Judy and Paul Neiman pose for a photo as she holds a ph... Judy and Paul Neiman pose for a photo as she holds a photo of their daughter, Sydnee, who was backed over by a car. (Credit: AP)
On the evening of October 19, 2002, Dr. Greg Gulbransen stepped out of his house to move his sport utility vehicle into the driveway. He didn't realize his two-year-old son had followed him.

What happened next is heartbreaking.

"He had his pajamas on and his little blue blanket," Gulbransen, a pediatrician, recounted Wednesday. "I didn't see him. ... I felt a bump. ... I had driven right over his head with the front wheel. ... He died in my arms."

What happened next is equally heartbreaking. Which is nothing.

Technology exists that could prevent these so-called backover accidents. Yet every year in the United States, roughly 200 people are killed and 18,000 more are injured in such a manner partly because the government is dragging its feet on implementing a rule that could prevent these deaths.

On Wednesday, a group of grieving parents, consumer organizations and traffic safety advocates filed a petition with a U.S. Court of Appeals in New York that they hope will force the Department of Transportation to act within the next 90 days on legislation passed five years ago, which would mandate improved rear visibility.

It's hard to pinpoint how many people die this way, because, believe it or not, the federal government does not keep track of traffic deaths that occur in driveways. But safety groups that do monitor such tragedies peg the annual average at 200. Forty-four percent of the victims, they say, are children.

"We have this technology," Gulbransen said Wednesday. "It is effective. It is available. ... We need to do the responsible thing."


In 2008, an act named after Cameron Gulbransen passed Congress with bipartisan support and directed the DOT to adopt standards that would improve visibility at the rear of vehicles, where blind spots are still prevalent. It was signed by President Bush. As this rule was shaped, this essentially meant that cars would get backup cameras, located either on the mirror or dashboard. But DOT officials have delayed issuing the final rules that would make this a reality.

Advocates like Judy Neiman, pictured above, took up the prevention cause as the popularity of hulking SUVs resulted in bigger blind spots behind the vehicles. More and more children were being killed in their own driveways.

Neiman backed over her 9-year-old daughter Sydnee in a bank parking lot. Her daughter didn't survive. "I read about it and I said, 'I would die if it happens to me,'" Neiman told the Associated Press last year. "Then it did happen to me."

Ongoing delays

Delay is perhaps a polite understatement. The final rule has been delayed again and again and again and again. Four times. The DOT has granted itself three extensions from a February 2011 statutory deadline, and last month, delayed a final ruling again until January 2015. Which would mean automakers probably wouldn't make the changes until the 2017 model year, nearly a decade after the law was passed.

"We have this technology," Gulbransen said Wednesday. "It is effective. It is available. ... We need to do the responsible thing."

Filed in the second circuit of the court, the petition asks the court to declare that the DOT has unreasonably delayed the rule and direct the department to issue the rule within 90 days. A spokesperson from the DOT referred questions regarding the legal action Wednesday to the Department of Justice, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Joan Claybrook, a former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and president emeritus of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, cannot understand the delay.

"There are certain minimum standards this department has been charged with issuing, and this standard is so minimal," she said. "This is a system that's popular with people. Go talk to them. They just love it."

At the heart of the resistance to this simple life-saving technology is the auto industry. Manufacturers say the addition of the backup cameras will add anywhere from $100 to $200 to the underlying cost of a vehicle and scare away consumers.

Manufacturers also say the 95 to 112 annual lives that NHTSA estimates would be saved by the final rule -- about half of the overall number of backover deaths -- are relatively small in their cost-benefit analysis charts, which, when you get right down to it, is a pretty reprehensible way to quantify the value of saving the lives of 40-something children and more than 100 people every year.

'Recommended' feature

NHTSA, which falls under the DOT in the government's organizational chart and is charged with protecting the safety of the motoring public, has been particularly gutless in its failure to shepherd the final required rule to reality.

On Tuesday, one day before the legal action was filed, NHTSA added the rear-view camera to its list of "recommended features" under its new-car assessment program.

It's the sort of thing that, if you don't know any better, sounds nice. The move will "encourage improved rearview visibility for the nation's motor vehicle fleet and help prevent backover accidents," the agency touted in a press release.

In practice, it continues the foot-dragging that NHTSA and the DOT have been doing for five years. It doesn't do anything that would compel manufacturers to make backup cameras standard on all models. In practice, it does nothing.

Finalizing the rule that makes backup cameras mandatory –- which Congress directed them to do five years ago –- would do something.

In the meantime, as many as 565 people, by NHTSA's own estimate, could have been saved, had the agency done something more than meet this problem with inaction. In the meantime, it's also worth noting that an entire generation of the population most vulnerable to backovers – children under 5, has been born. How many of them have been backed over?

Pete Bigelow is an associate editor at AOL Autos. He can be reached via email at peter.bigelow@teamaol.com and followed on Twitter @PeterCBigelow.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 213 Comments
      Dave
      • 1 Year Ago
      I've driven in cars with back-up cameras(rentals) and it was a nice tool but not a replacement for being aware of your surroundings. I actually prefer the sensors in my work vehicle, gives an audible warning when you get close to an object or person, makes me stop backing up and readjust my field of view and see what's there.
      • 1 Year Ago
      The fact that this idiot has the temerity to file a lawsuit and show his face after he not only failed in his duties as 1.) A Parent and 2.) A Driver is a testament to exactly what is wrong with this country. What an a$$h0le. This guy is worse than the lady who sued McDonald's for spilling hot coffee on herself. Liberal thinking at it's finest.
      spankster59
      • 1 Year Ago
      While I certainly don't mean to in any manner minimize the loss of these parents, but here we are again in a situation where a very small, but vocal, group of citizens wants the Government to mandate something, at an additional cost to potentially everyone, to address a problem that by their own numbers affects very few. While I am not a statistician or number cruncher, I would venture a guess that more children choke to death on candy, die in playground accidents or falls in or around their home, etc. This appears to be another case of Congress passing another of their "feel good" laws and adding yet another expense for all of us because of a tragedy that happens to only a very small fraction of people, and a tragedy that could very likely be mitigated by people taking a little more time, and being more careful, instead of counting on technology to once again take the place of these basic principles of daily life.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @spankster59
        Not only do I agree with you but I want to point out that these parents didn't know where their child was. They bought the oversized vehicles, they were behind the wheel ... but this is somehow the governments fault? I am personally sick of hearing from negligent parents bemoaning safety hazards that they themselves create.
        jlaka272
        • 1 Year Ago
        @spankster59
        TOTALLY agree spanky. People need to be more responsible. All these "feel good" laws are a cop out to actually holding the actual person accountable. Instead, the car companies will now be responsible if a driver runs over someone. What sense does that make? By that theory, if I buy a gun that doesn't tell me specifically not to shoot human beings and I do, Winchester should go to jail for murder and pay restitution to the family affected, meanwhile I should be able to walk free because it wasn't my responsibility to know that I can't shoot someone, it's Winchester's fault for not warning me....
      Susan
      • 1 Year Ago
      I could possibly see how a toddler might not been seen while backing up but a 9 year old? is everybody in such a rush that they fail to take necessary precautions and look in mirrors or over their shoulder while backing up. My car has a rear camera but still I look and do not rely on the camera. One ounce of prevention!!
      • 1 Year Ago
      Sad story but lets remember we have a responsibility to pay attention to what we do everyday. Blaming the car company for not installing rearview cameras is just an excuse and not owning up to your mistake. I guess next people will blame gun companys for the people who are killed by them because a device wasn't on the gun preventing you from shooting a person.
      • 1 Year Ago
      SO we all need to pay 1500 a car for back up cameras for some idiots? this is also why they passed legislation because of garage door openers needing cameras and the same with windows..People pay attention!..Oh i felt a bump..WHAT? and you kept driving? How can u NOT see your kid following you outside?! I am all for keeping kids safe but take responsibility people! Shut the phones off, slow down and don't take on more than you need to just for more money. A doctor should know better!
      zapdog4
      • 1 Year Ago
      Just one of a long list of issues when we allow technology to replace common sense and personal responsibility. People with these cameras think they relieve the responsibility of them to actually LOOK behind them. An automobile is the LAST place we should allow electronics to replace the human mind. The more we rely on these electronics to think for us, the more accidents we will see as a result. Wait until your 'automatic parallel parking' feature fails, and you hit a few cars. Think your insurance company will go after the manufacturer?
        LONNIE
        • 1 Year Ago
        @zapdog4
        Best post on here zapdog4. It is this simple. The reason we don't have cars that drive by themself is there are too many things that go wrong. When I was in the 3rd grade in 1961 there were books that stated by 1978 we would have cars that drive themself and by the mid 80 we would have flying "cars" at every home. They exist but are not practical or safe enough to let the public operate them. I always envisioned crashes in the sky by stupid drivers because I saw how stupid they were on land. Sometimes technology should be kept to practical things, computers, tv, radios and so on.
      teecee656
      • 1 Year Ago
      I have a big crew cab pick-up truck with a backup camera that can be viewed in the rear view mirror. Unless someone is almost 4 feet tall I can't see them directly behind my vehicle. I love the camera! For tight parking lots, backing up or parking front out, it is indispensable. It displays both directional lines (to line up with parking stalls) and a yellow line at 3 feet (so the tailgate can be lowered) and a red line at 18 inches. It is absolutely wonderful when backing up to align and hook-up a trailer. They make parallel parking much easier and there worth far exceeds the $100 to $200 price, in convenience alone. DOT and NHTSA are failing the public. People have no trouble paying $500 for a smart phone that becomes technically obsolete in a year, but worry about a extra $100 or $200 for a camera that improves safety and consistently proves it's worth over a 5 to 10 year life of a vehicle.
      JusticeLost
      • 1 Year Ago
      Yet another group blaming technology, or in this case lack of, for the irresposibility of humans. "I didn't bother to take a look around my vehicle before backing it up and I ended up killing someone. But instead of learning from my mistakes, I'm going to find someone or something else to blame it on." Folks most of these accidents happen over nothing more then utter laziness and irresponsibility. You want to know about blind spots? I drive a tractor trailer. There is onw simple thing people can do to prevent backing accidents, GOAL...Get Out And Look, up down and all around. If I can walk around my 70 foot long tractor trailer, why can't people get out and look around their vehicle that's 1/5 the length?
        Melissa !
        • 1 Year Ago
        @JusticeLost
        you know, as sad as this is. i agree, its really not that hard to take a look before you move your car.. i understand they are hurt, it is sad.. but you should be aware of what is going on around you, and be aware if your children are following you, just like if you left your child in a car, with the windows up, while your in the store and they die, whos fault is it? its clearly yours so who do you plan to sue for that one?
        epalmerjr
        • 1 Year Ago
        @JusticeLost
        I don't think it has anything to do with laziness. Most people are just to much in a hurry to take the time to do the walk around.
        Jetncat
        • 1 Year Ago
        @JusticeLost
        I agree with you. Too many people are in a rush and don't want to except that they are the ones behind that wheel. 30K deaths by cars every single years and thousands more are maimed and crippled. Should we outlaw cars and blame them or should the driver be held accountable? An automobile is a 3K Lb weapon use is cautiously.
          idcsr1
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Jetncat
          Ya wanna outlaw kitchen knives first?
        frustrated one
        • 1 Year Ago
        @JusticeLost
        Yes, I am sure that all of you never had a close call, always look around your entire car every single time you back up, and never make mistakes. It is not about litigation, it is about making the world safer. I am tired of car companies not wanting to do what is right until it is federally mandated.
      • 1 Year Ago
      To hear the people who have sounded off so far, it looks like we should go back to the 19th century when a "let the buyer beware" attitude on the part of politicians and business people led to regular outbreaks of food and medicine poisoning and the unnecessary death of hundreds of thousands of people, all in the name of the "free market" system. Of course, we could also go back to living in caves and wearing animal skins.
        Joebudgie
        • 1 Year Ago
        You are totally "out of it". Previous comments to yours are only asking mature people who drive to exercise common sense when driving.
        doketx
        • 1 Year Ago
        no, let's let the gov't. decide everything for us, and replace common sense with technology. By the way, your "food and medicine" analogy is way off. We're talking about individual caution being governed.
        Amanda
        • 1 Year Ago
        Really, So what happens if the Fuse goes out in a vehicle with the Rear Cam? This after you've completely forgotten how to drive without one. Society has become so reliant on all these unnecessary things Manufacturer's have added to vehicles - in the "name of safety," most drivers now days, wouldn't know how to change a tire if AAA didn't come. Technology is not meant to replace Personal Responsibility.
      • 1 Year Ago
      when i was a kid i was hit by a person backing out of their driveway.. it has nothing to do with cameras it has to with the driver.. the driver should be more aware of their surrounds.. it takes millisecs to check to make sure no one is around before you drive like a bat of out hell in your own driveway.. I am a school bus driver and I do see this time and time again where people rush to the cars.. rush to get out of the driveway.. rush rush and rush.. just take a moment to walk around the car.. breathe then leave..
        golemur
        • 1 Year Ago
        That's right. Rush rush rush. That's the way of the world. Lazy lazy lazy too. You can't ban or legislate stupidity or laziness
          doketx
          • 1 Year Ago
          @golemur
          That won't keep the gov't. from trying.
          Amanda
          • 1 Year Ago
          @golemur
          It would be pretty awesome if we could though. Could you Imagine? Taking a Common Sense Test and getting a License stating your level of Common Sense Awareness! The PCSA test. A bit Puckish, but Funny!
      • 1 Year Ago
      If you run over your kid, you're a dumb-ass, plain and simple. Furthermore, how would a rear-view camera prevent a similar situation, when the article says the kid was ran over with the front wheel?
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