Lawmakers and safety advocates on Capitol Hill called for new auto safety upgrades this week that would require rearview cameras for drivers and power windows that automatically reverse, both as a way to protect children around vehicles.
“None of us wants to — as we each have done — meet with another family who has lost a child, in what is clearly a preventable death,” said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., who outlined legislation that would force automakers to provide the improvements.
Called the Cameron Gulbransen Kids and Cars Safety Act, the measure is named after a 2-year-old New York boy who was accidentally run over and killed by his father as he backed out his sport utility vehicle in 2002.
Kids and Cars, a Kansas-based safety group supporting the bill, estimated that about two children are killed and 48 injured every week because of back-over accidents. Family members are typically behind the wheel, they said.
Under the measure, which has failed in past years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would require equipment alerting drivers to children and other objects behind the vehicle, prevent a vehicle from rolling when parked and make power windows reverse direction to address some children who have been strangled to death.
The power windows automatically change direction when detecting an object in their path. The cameras provide a view of the space behind the bumper, which is often difficult to see through a rearview mirror.
The federal safety agency also would be required to improve its collection of data involving “nontraffic, noncrash injuries” involving children. The bill is backed by Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H., and Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Peter King, R-N.Y.
Many luxury vehicles have the technologies and other vehicles offer them as optional equipment. Parents and safety advocates said the improvements could run more than $350 per vehicle.
NHTSA has estimated that back-over accidents led to 183 deaths annually and about 7,400 injuries.
Automakers have opposed mandating the upgrades, noting that many of the safety features are available for consumers as an option. A government report last November also found that many of the cameras face limitations and their performance can vary depending on weather conditions.
“Such technology does show promise, though more research and development could help them better identify objects, especially at night and in inclement weather,” said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
The industry has agreed to provide brake-shift interlock equipment that requires the driver to engage the brake to shift the vehicle out of park. Automakers have pledged to install the devices on all vehicles by 2010.
Others have stressed the importance of walking around the vehicle before moving it. But some parents whose children have been injured or killed in backovers said a simple check is not always the best prevention.
“We can supervise our children to the best of our ability, but anybody who has ever met a child knows that they are unpredictable at best,” said Sue Auriemma, of Manhasset, N.Y.
Auriemma’s young daughter, Kate, was seriously injured after she accidentally backed over her in May 2005. Auriemma said moments before the accident, she had looked behind her car “but my daughter slipped out of the house in a second and behind my vehicle before I knew it.”
On the Net:
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
Kids and Cars: http://www.kidsandcars.org
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