Should back-up cameras (designed to prevent kids from being run over by vehicles moving in reverse) be mandatory equipment in every new car sold? If legislation introduced by Sens. Hillary Clinton and John Sununu — the Cameron Gulbransen Kids and Cars Safety Act — is signed into law, they will be.
But should they?
A number of not-unreasonable objections might be raised. Just in the way of food for thought:
For one (and unlike, say, padded dashboards or even anti-lock brakes) the “safety” advantage of back-up cameras is debatable. In the first place, one could all but eliminate the chances of running over a child by making sure no babies or small kids are left sitting in the path of the vehicle before one even thinks of putting the vehicle in reverse. This does not seem an undue burden. Small children should be supervised at all times to begin with; it’s arguably negligent (and not the vehicle’s fault) to operate any machinery when small children are present. Lawn mowers — or SUVs. Make sure the kids are not nearby. Turn your head; take a look back there.
It’s not all that difficult.
The real problem is harried, over-extended (and thus not-paying-attention) parents aren’t doing that. With one hand on the cell phone and half their attention someplace else — and always in a big hurry — they jump in the vehicle and throw it in Reverse with nary a thought to what might be laying in harm’s way.
And since our society’s first impulse is to look anywhere but in the mirror for a scapegoat, the automakers get targeted. It’s their fault — for not having closed-circuit cameras (with jarring buzzers, of course) to warn us of our own negligence before we have to deal with the consequences of that negligence.
One feels terrible for the children who have been harmed as a result of parental negligence. But it is, ultimately, an issue of parental negligence. Adding expensive idiot-proofing technology to vehicles doesn’t address the underlying idiocy; it will almost certainly find expression elsewhere.
Closed circuit monitors and back-up cameras add yet another potential distraction to the vehicle — which is itself a safety hazard. Instead of paying attention to what’s going on around us, we gape at a TV screen. Brilliant. Moreover, it’s probably not savvy to encourage yet more reliance on yet more technology — rather than encouraging people to using their brains (and, hopefully, common sense).
Another point: Not everyone has kids. In fact, more than half the population doesn’t have kids. Forcing them to buy back-up cameras designed specifically to prevent the driver from running over a small child while backing up is not much different, when you think about it, from requiring everyone to drive a minivan with baby seats — kids or not.
No kids, no need for a back-up camera. But Senators Clinton and Sununu want to score political points with the “safety” lobby — and hand the bill to you.
And the bill is considerable. Scan the options sheets of new cars that offer back-up cameras as optional equipment. The less expensive ones are several hundred dollars. Some are “bundled” with other things –like GPS navigation — that add $1,000 or more to the bottom line. Bear in mind, the technology requires a closed circuit TV monitor built into the dashboard someplace, along with the cameras themselves and all the related gizmos and gadgetry.
On top of that, like any complex system, eventually, the thing will stop working or need expensive repairs if you own the vehicle more than couple of years. Pity the second owner — or you, if you are the kind of person who keeps his car for eight or ten years or more.
The bill’s out there, waiting for you.
For Sens. Clinton and Sununu, a couple hundred bucks more or less (or even $1,000) on the front end — and whatever it costs to fix the thing down the road — is just so much small change. They are both millionaires and can afford to indulge themselves. Most of us, of course, are not — and cannot. A couple extra hundred bucks can be a very big deal indeed — let alone $1,000 (or more).
Especially when turning around to look before we back up — and making sure we know where our kids are before we do — is so much cheaper.