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An Avoidable Tragedy- Backover Accidents

Yearly, thousands of children are injured and hundreds more are killed, by a preventable road collision called backover accidents. A backover accident occurs anytime a vehicle moving backwards strikes a person or property. According to the Department of Transportation, each year as a result of backover accidents, 292 people are killed and 18,000 more are injured. Approximately 44 percent of the fatalities resulting from a backover accident are children under the age of 5, with another 33 percent represented by adults over the age of 70. Backovers fall into the category of “nontraffic” incidents, meaning that they take place off of public roads or highways, and usually occur in private driveways and parking lots. Backover accidents typically occur at low speeds, but even at 5 MPH, your body and property can sustain significant damage, as a car on average weighs approximately 3,000 pounds. Typical injuries resulting from a backover accident include, broken bones, nerve damage, traumatic brain injury, internal bleeding, and death. According to KidsandCars.org, the first nonprofit organization to keep a record of children injured as a result of a backover accident, found that 50 children are backed over every single week, with two children dying as a result of their injuries. Even more tragic, in seventy percent of the cases, a family member or close relative was behind the wheel at the time of impact. Backover accidents devastate families across all cultures, races, and socioeconomic spectrums; despite the devastation of backover accidents these types of injuries are preventable tragedies.

Many families directly affected by the loss of a child as a result of a backover accident have petitioned their legislature to reform the automotive industry to require all new vehicles to come equipped with rearview cameras. Dr. Greg Gulbransen, a pediatrician from Oyster Bay, New York, knows the heartache associated with backovers all too well. One evening in October 2002, Dr. Gulbransen reversed his wife’s car down their driveway when he struck and killed his son. Cameron, Dr. Gulbransen’s two-year-old son, had just learned how to open a door, and did so for his first and last time that evening. Cameron died in his father’s arms. After many meetings with local representatives and interest groups, Congress unanimously passed, and former President George W. Bush signed into law, the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act on Feb. 28, 2008.

The law however did not specify how best to improve visibility behind vehicles, instead it left much to be decided by the regulatory system. After much delay, in November of 2010, the Office of Regulatory Analysis and Evaluation released their preliminary regulatory impact report indicating that backup cameras would save 95 to 112 lives per year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration charged with completing the new standards have repeatedly delayed proposal of any rule citing that it could cost up to $2.7 billion to equip a fleet of 16.6 million new vehicles with rearview cameras. Auto industry lobbyist through the Alliance of Automobile Manufactures, a trade group representing Ford Motor Co., General Motors Co., and other major automakers, agreed with the purpose of the law, but not in the proposed costly implementation. Instead regarding cameras as a consumer choice, not a government mandate. Approximately one out of every three cars sold in 2013 was equip with a rearview camera. In a writ of mandamus issued on September 25, 2013, Consumers Union, Kids and Cars nonprofit, and several families affected by backovers, petitioned the Second Circuit to compel the Department of Transportation to release a final rule within 90 days. The Transportation Department held that the court should dismiss the petition as NHTSA is examining “real-world evidence to analyze the performance of rearview video systems and how the drivers in those vehicles used the systems in the course of actual backover accidents…” Currently if the government meets its January 2015 deadline without further delay, automakers would still have over two years to fully implement the new safety requirements, and would not be in effect until 2017.

There seem to be two forces at work here, the unpredictability of children with their fearless attitude, and the lack of visibility in cars also known as “blind zones.” Rearview cameras aim to address the second concern but should not be viewed as a silver bullet. One recent study from Oregon State University researchers found that only one in five drivers actually used a rearview camera when it was available, but 88 percent of those who did use the camera avoided striking a child-sized decoy. Even with advances in technology, there is no substitute for parental vigilance and guidance of their young. We need not wait for a final ruling to decrease the frequency of backover accidents. Children must to be taught how to coexist with cars, and all the dangers associates with large transportation vehicles. Drivers in residential neighborhoods with small children can reduce this child fatality by implementing a low cost alternative, a sweep of your car prior to turning on the engine. As Consumer Reports states, “Your first line of defense against back-over accidents is to get out of your car and check behind it just before you back up.”

If you would like more information regarding backover accidents and to determine whether you have grounds for a case, please contact us online or call 1 800 7 LEGAL 7 for a Free Case Evaluation.

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