In the news: the U.S. government is proposing a ruling that would require all vehicles 10,000 pounds and under to have a device that expands the view behind the vehicle. NHTSA says that it "believes automobile manufacturers will install rear-mounted video cameras and in-vehicle displays to meet the proposed standards." Short of hiring someone to sit on the bumper and call out when he sees something, or making the entire rear end out of glass, I can't imagine what else NHTSA "believes" the automakers would use.
The ruling, if it goes through (and does anyone think it won't?) will require all vehicles to be compliant by the 2015 model year. It's one more mandated device in a list of devices NHTSA requires. Some really are good ideas as far as mandatory requirement goes, others questionable: seatbelt buzzers, airbags, tire pressure monitoring systems, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control. This latest proposal stems from a situation where a man backed over his two-year-old son in the driveway. Children, who are generally small enough that they're hidden behind vehicles, make up a disproportionate number of such fatalities. (Why elderly people, who are slower but usually taller than children, make up the second-largest group is harder to figure out.)
But as NHTSA plunges forward with its ruling, it also says, "drivers must remember that no technology can, or should, replace full attention and vigilance when backing up." And that's the key to all of these mandated devices: NHTSA is putting on Band-Aids when it should be treating the festering sore under them.
Simply put, we are nations of bad drivers, and neither the U.S. nor the Canadian government is willing to really put some teeth into the issue and start at the beginning. I can look on utility poles in the city and see sheets of typing paper advertising driving schools that guarantee I'll pass my test, starting at just $99. I don't even need to go to driving school before showing up for my examination (in fact, I never did). I never need to go to any advanced driver training once I've passed my test (and it was only when I did get advanced training that I realized I hadn't been a good driver).
As the participants on Canada's Worst Driver prove, it is possible to get a legal driver's license without actually being able to drive. I have a friend who drove a total of eight blocks and had to back up once in order to pass her test and get her license. And unless you do something catastrophic in a vehicle, or live to be 80 and reach mandatory retesting, you'll never be asked to prove your ability again.
If NHTSA and other government agencies really wanted the roads to be safe, they would put as much concern into safe drivers as they do into safe cars. They would tighten up licensing regulations, set limits on who is qualified to teach, set strict minimum requirements for ability, and require drivers to learn about car control, which is not the same as learning just enough to pass the exam.
The agencies would crack down on cell phone use -- you'll never convince me that allowing just-as-dangerous hands-free calls wasn't due to lobbying on the part of automakers and electronics companies that had sunk so much money into on-board Bluetooth -- with serious penalties, rather than the $155 slap on the wrist that drivers face in Ontario. They would crack down on coffee shops and burger joints that let drivers pull up to a window and then head out to the street with food and drink in hand. And they would pay attention to the single most important safety item on any vehicle: its tires. Mandate winter tire use and pull cars off the road when they have insufficient tire tread.
On the other hand, maybe NHTSA is working toward safer roads with all these mandates. Once cars are filled with all of the required electronic devices, they'll be so expensive that no one will be able to afford one, and we'll all be on public transit where we won't be able to smash into each other.