Administration sued over missed car safety rule deadline

Safety organizations are suing the Department of Transportation to force it to issue federal standards requiring rearview cameras or similar technology in automobiles.

ADVERTISEMENT
The advocates say that the department broke the law by missing a 2011 deadline to finalize the regulation, which is aimed at making sure drivers don’t accidentally back over children standing behind their cars. The rule has now been pushed back until at least 2015.

“When you get a law passed and when Congress tells an agency to do something, you do think that that is going to happen,” Janette Fennell, the president of Kids and Cars, told The Hill. “So why do we have to keep going over and over and over the same situation? And, of course, the only thing that happens because of that is children continue to be killed, and this is wrecking American families.”

Fennell’s organization, the Consumers Union and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety are joining two parents whose children were killed or injured in backover accidents in the case, which is being filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. They will be represented in the case by Public Citizen.

In 2008, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act, which called for the Transportation Department to issue regulations making sure that drivers can see behind them when they back up. The law was named for a 2-year-old who was killed when his father accidentally backed over him, and was designed to prevent similar tragedies.

“This isn’t some technical abstraction, it’s about actual people being injured and killed,” Greg Gulbransen, Cameron’s father, said in a statement ahead of the lawsuit’s announcement.

According to groups filing the lawsuit, two children are killed each week in backover accidents, and 50 are injured.

Despite the law, though, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has repeatedly delayed issuing the rule.

The agency took a first step in late 2010 by sending draft regulations to the White House’s budget office for what was supposed to be a 90-day review, but the rules languished for a year and a half.

This summer, the NHTSA pulled the proposal and announced that it needed until the end of next year to do a further analysis. 

Lawmakers in Congress have bemoaned the delay.

“It’s tragic every time a young child is killed or injured this way,” Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said in a statement Wednesday. “When the experts tell me that installing rear cameras in cars could save the lives of hundreds of young children and prevent thousands of heartbreaking injuries, I want action.”

Though rearview camera technology has become increasingly common on automobiles, the groups assert that Americans need a federal standard.

“More and more cars are seeing the technology, but cars shouldn’t be competing on safety. This is something that should be available to everyone,” said Ami Gadhia, a senior policy counsel with Consumers Union, the nonprofit arm of Consumer Reports.

Proponents also hope that the technology will become as standard as any other car safety feature.

“People need to understand this is not that different than seatbelts or airbags, and everybody fought and fought and fought for those safety type features to be included in vehicles. And today, no one would ever think of purchasing a car without a seatbelt or an airbag,” Fennell said.