by Sally Greenberg, Executive Director
For years, safety advocates have been working to protect young children from being killed behind vehicles driving in reverse because the driver can’t adequately see the space behind the cars they are backing up. Late this afternoon, a bill to address this deadly hazard – which routinely kills two children a week, according to the group KIDS AND CARS – overcame a major hurdle, passing the House Energy and Commerce Committee unanimously. The Senate Commerce Committee passed a similar measure several months ago.
The biggest danger comes with the very largest of vehicles: SUVs and pickup trucks. While every car has a blind zone, the larger vehicles tend to have much wider and longer ones. Consumer Reports, where I worked for a decade and lobbied to get this bill passed before coming to the National Consumers League, measures all blind areas behind every vehicle they test. CR has measured blind zones as long as 69 feet, longer than many driveways. This means that, when a driver is sitting in the car about to put it in reverse, she can’t see anything behind her for 69 feet and as much as 7 feet wide. Clearly an accident waiting to happen. Small children run out after Mommy or Daddy, Grandpa or Grandma, without being seen and end up behind the car, in a blind spot. You know the rest. The tragedy is devastating: often the parent is the one who backs over the child, and it often happens in their own driveway.
The bill passed in the House Committee today – sponsored by Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Congressman Peter King (R-NY), (the bill bears the name of his young constituent, Cameron Gulbransen, a victim of backover). Like its Senate counterpart, sponsored by Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Senator John Sununu (R-NH), the bill will require that every vehicle meet a standard for rear visibility in the next few years allowing drivers to detect objects behind them, that every vehicle require that its brake be depressed if it is to shift into gear, preventing young children from playing with a gear shift and setting a car in motion (because they can’t reach the brake pedal, typically), and calling for data collection by the federal government for these types of nontraffic, noncrash incidents, which are not systematically tracked now by the government.