“Your next car will have a rear-view camera…”

“…whether you want one or not.” [Zenon Evans, Reason, earlier here and here] Congress mandated in 2007 via the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act — remember, laws named after victims are usually bad laws — that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, develop rules mandating such cameras in order to reduce the rate at which drivers backing up inadvertently run over persons behind them, sometimes their own infant family members. It delayed doing so, in part, because of the regulation’s exceedingly high cost — $2.7 billion by one estimate — and because the estimated ratio of lives saved to costs inflicted fell well below the agency’s own standardized threshold for action. Still, the text of the law forced its hand.

My Cato colleague Peter Van Doren, editor of Regulation, notes that “in this case, NHTSA was responding to its own analysis that determined (p. 143) that driver error is the major determinant of the effectiveness of backup assist technologies including cameras.” Former regulatory oversight director Cass Sunstein, at Bloomberg View, offers a view somewhat more sympathetic toward the regulation.

By making cars materially more expensive, the rule will make it harder for many poorer households without cars to graduate to car ownership. A new Urban Institute study by Rolf Pendall, Evelyn Blumenberg, and Casey Dawkins tends to reinforce the intuitively plausible notion that wage earners who succeed in acquiring cars have significantly better chances of making economic progress:

Housing voucher recipients with cars tended to live and remain in higher-opportunity neighborhoods — places with lower poverty rates, higher social status, stronger housing markets, and lower health risks. Cars are also associated with improved neighborhood satisfaction and better employment outcomes. Among Moving to Opportunity families, those with cars were twice as likely to find a job and four times as likely to remain employed.

Since poverty takes a toll in health and life expectancy, safety-enhancing mandates that drive up the price of cars have negative as well as positive health impacts.


  • By making cars materially more expensive, the rule will make it harder for many poorer households without cars to graduate to car ownership.

    Not so much. They’ll keep the crappy old used cars longer. It will have a slight depressing effect on new car sales for that reason.

    I wonder how many more accidents will be caused by trying to back up without looking. The TV lacks the peripheral vision of a human head on a swivel.

  • This does not depend on the assumption that low-earning workers buy new cars. New and used cars are substitutes for each other, and making new cars more costly will tend to make used cars more costly too as time goes on, both by restricting the volume of new cars bought that age into the used car market, and by redirecting some fraction of new-car buyers into used-car markets thus tending to drive up prices there.

  • If a few people die each year because they simply get lost — the family that mistakenly drove deep into a Oregon forest a few years ago comes to mind — shall we mandate navigation systems, too?

    And I agree with Mannie about the limitations of a camera. I don’t much rely on mine and actually prefer to turn my head to look. (Call me old fashioned for using my eyes!) My car also automatically turns down the radio when I put it in reverse, and one wonders how many backup accidents occur or are made worse because the driver can’t hear anything over a loud radio. Sounds like we need another mandate . . .

  • Reducing car ownership is consistent with the rest of the progressive vision of the future. Al Gore started the war-on-the-wheel, and everyone else is trying to do their part. The war-on-fire is also going well, with some more radical members now claiming that it is immoral to burn wood.

  • I have an idea that I admit on its face is totally farfetched. We could let buyers decide if the extra expense of the camera is worth purchasing. If it proves valuable to enough people, then the “demand” for it will make it standard equipment.

    I know…I know…crazy talk…

  • Eh, don’t worry, manufacturers will save money somewhere else to keep the price the same. Cheaper interior, cheaper paint, cheaper ignition switch. What’s the worst that can happen?

  • As you all know by now, Little Timmy choked on a pretzel last week.

    To prevent tragedies like this from ever happening again, I am hereby introducing the Little Timmy Food Safety and Patriotism Act. It will now be illegal to transport pretzels across state lines without a million-dollar permit, or prey on Our Nation’s Children by targeting ads for pretzels to minors. All attempted purchases of pretzels will be strictly carded. Furthermore, we will be tough on crime, seizing the children of those who abuse their children by procuring pretzels for them. Unlawful pretzel trafficking will be a felony, enforced by special SWAT teams equipped with armored personnel carriers and machine guns. Fill up the prisons! It’s a moral crusade! We must, we must!

    If you oppose the LTFSAPA, you will be on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of morality. How can you hate children and want them to die by choking on pretzels? You heartless, immoral predator.

    Up next, our “Pave the World in Nerf” project will spare no expense to eliminate trip-and-fall accidents…

  • And the sad thing is, it probably won’t work as intended. Cars already come equipped with means to view behind them, they’re called mirrors. However if a person habitually backs up without out looking in the mirrors or turning to look, why would they look at the camera either?
    I have a neighbor who barrels backwards out of his driveway every morning without looking. He has been the subject of three near misses that I have witnessed (probably more that I haven’t seen). One of these days his luck will run out. Adding a camera to his car won’t change this nasty habit.

  • I like my backup camera, but I actually think they will cause more accidents if “everyone” has them because not everyone will think to physically look around, too, and not just look at the camera. They’re really better as a tool while backing out of a parking spot or while parallel parking to see how much room you have, than a person-avoidance system.

    I think there’s some truth to the idea that Liberals simply hate cars. They think we should all be walking or taking the bus–unless you’re wealthy enough to afford a private plane and limo driver like Al Gore. So if they make car ownership unaffordable, that’s a good thing!

  • By making cars materially more expensive, the rule will make it harder for many poorer households without cars to graduate to car ownership.

    Which is the purpose, it’s simply “global warming” legislation through the back door.

    Not so much. They’ll keep the crappy old used cars longer. It will have a slight depressing effect on new car sales for that reason.

    so do what the Dutch gov did when they started requiring a 3rd brakelight about 20 years ago, which was to require one be backfitted in all existing cars, and set requirements for doing so that could effectively only be met by a high end shop.

  • And, the next YouTube fad will be videos of people driving their cars backwards down the streets and highways. As they will have a back-up camera, it won’t be reckless operation, because the point of a back-up camera is so you can safely drive in reverse [despite the point Mannie noted, that TVs do not have peripheral vision] .

    I wonder what other unintended consequences this reg will have?