Sally Greenberg testfies at NHTSA hearing on backover protection – National Consumers League

March 23, 2011

Testimony Before National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration on Backover Prevention

Hello, my name is Sally Greenberg and I am Executive Director of the National Consumers League. The League is celebrating its 112th year of advocacy for a more fair and just marketplace for both consumers and workers.

I debated whether it was important for me to be here today. There are many people who can speak far more passionately and from personal experience on the terrible hazard of backing a vehicle up and not being able to see behind you. Mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, grandparents or brothers and sisters who know all too well what can happen when you cannot see what is behind you.

But then I read this incredible Proposed Rulemaking – and reflected on just how far we have come in 8 years, I felt the need to come and talk about it.

I first met Janette Fennell at a press conference she planned in a Safeway Parking Lot in Bethesda. At the time I was serving as Senior Product Safety Counsel for Consumers Union.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to see or even why I was attending this press conference, but something in the notice told me to go. When i got there, what I saw was a scary demonstration of blind zones  behind vehicles – I also heard a heartbreaking story told by a t a grandfather whose grandson had been backed over and killed. That was the first time I had heard about this safety hazard. AS I drove back to my office in Washington but couldn’t get the grandfather’s story out of my head – or stop thinking “there must be a way to make that car safer” I called Janette up the next week and asked if she’d meet with me and CU next time she was in town.

I’ll never forget going with Janette to see Kevin in Representative Peter King’s office – taking with us a video of Dr. Gary Gulbransen talking about his backover incident, which included pictures of his precious little boy Cameron who had been killed.  Kevin said right away, “we’ll drop a bill.” For which I am ever grateful.

But that’s when things got hard. What a difference 8 years makes  – I credit every since person in this room for their diligence,a hard work compassion, relentless advocacy, financial investment in coming to Washington, political savvy, and above all, refusal to take no for an answer.

So what did the world look like for correcting what should be a pretty simple fix – blind zones  in cars – right? Here’s what we heard as we walked around to congressional offices or talked with representatives from the auto industry or met with NHTSA officials?

  • We can’t fix this  it’s the parents fault – if they were more careful their kids would be safe
  • It’s the kids fault – they should be trained not to run behind cars
  • Its too expensive to fix the blind zone problem –  cameras will cost hundreds of dollars and these  prices will be passed along to consumers and consumers don’t want to pay for things they won’t use – in fact, David Pittle from CU and I met with most of the American and foreign car makers and none of them took up the challenge to be the first to adopt a camera or other rear visibility technology
  • Cameras don’t work; consumers won’t use them and won’t pay attention to them
  • Beepers signaling a person or object behind the car will just go off for no reason, therefore consumers will ignore them and they won’t do the job
  • One former head of NHTSA – he will go unmentioned –  told me personally that he didn’t think NHTSA should have to work on this but since it was kids, he’d been told they would probably have to
  • There are no numbers or data to demonstrate this is really happening  and we don’t believe – or can’t use – Kids and Cars Data because its not official
  • Anyway, we can’t keep statistics about events that happen in people’s driveways or parking lots
  • These are freak accidents; they don’t happen frequently enough to merit government action and they certainly don’t merit forcing a redesign of every vehicle on the road at a cost of billions of dollars.
  • We don’t need the government forcing these rules on us – this country’s becoming a Nanny State!

I’m sure I’ve left something out but that gives you the flavor. But guess what – I didn’t read any of that in the rulemaking procedure we’re discussing this morning. Instead, what I read made my heart soar – the tone has changed 180 percent. Like this comment:

  • Because many backovers occur off public roadways, in areas such as driveways and parking lots, NHTSA’s ordinary methodologies for collecting data as to the specific numbers and circumstances of backover incidents have not always given the agency a complete picture of the scope and circumstances of these types of  incidents. WOW!
  • With regard to injuries and fatalities related specifically to backovers, these account for an estimated 63 percent (292) of the fatalities and 38 percent (18,000) of the injuries in backing crashes for all vehicles (cars, light trucks or vans, heavy trucks, and other/multiple vehicles).

Finally, some government statistics on the backover hazard.

  • Similar to previous findings, backover fatalities disproportionately affect children under 5 years old and adults 70 or older.  When restricted to backover fatalities involving passenger vehicles, children under 5 account for 44 percent of the fatalities, and adults 70 and older account for 33 percent.  Finally – an acknowledgement that kids are disproportionately affected and that it isn’t the fault of a parent or caregiver
  • Costs for these rearview video systems are estimated at approximately $58-88 for vehicles equipped with a navigation system or other type of multi-function visual display, to $158-$189 for vehicles requiring a dashboard-mounted display screen, or $173-$203 for vehicles ith an RV display integrated into the interior rearview mirror. Finally costs that aren’t wildly exaggerated! 
  • And finally, the agency believes its proposal may save the lives of about 100 people killed annually when cars mistakenly back over them — especially small children. About 100 of the nearly 300 fatalities in back-up crashes each year involve children age 5 or younger and “there are strong reasons … to prevent these deaths,” NHTSA once again acknowledging the value this rule will bring. And again here: “ While this rulemaking would have great cost, it would also have substantial benefits, reducing annual fatalities in backover crashes by 95 to 112 fatalities, and annual injuries by 7,072 to 8,374 injuries.”
  • “Based on its extensive testing, the agency tentatively concluded that a camera-based system is the only effective type of technology currently available”.  – cameras do work and people in NHTSA’s testing do use them effectively
  • “While these benefits cannot be monetized, they could be significant.  A breakeven analysis suggests that if the nonquantified benefits amount $65 to $79 per vehicle, the benefits would justify the costs.  Taking all of the foregoing points alongside the quantifiable figures and the safety issue at hand, the agency tentatively concludes that the benefits do justify the costs. More specifically, we emphasize the following data and considerations: Drivers will also benefit from increased rear visibility in a variety of ways, including increased ease and convenience with respect to parking.”
  • “Given the very young age of most of the children fatally-injured in backover crashes, attempting to provide them with training or with an audible warning would not enable them to protect themselves. An acknowledgment that we cannot expect young children to be trained to avoid backover hazards. “

Here we are today with a new set of rules before us. The new standard will require that rearview camera systems to be installed on all passenger vehicles by 2014.

So a new day has dawned. I look around this room and I get emotional – every single person – especially the families here today – many of them working people without financial resources – who traveled to Washington, lobbied Congress, and who spent precious here played their own unique part in getting this legislation passed and helping to shape NHTSA’s rulemaking to make universal rearward visibility  a reality. Hallelujah and I’m honored to have been part of this movement. was the force behind legislation requiring our government to set a rear visibility standard so we no longer have to back up blindly.