The New York Times and San Jose Mercury News report:
Federal regulators plan to announce this week that automakers will be required to put rearview cameras in all passenger vehicles by 2014 to help drivers see what is behind them. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which proposed the mandate in late 2010, is expected to send a final version of the rule to Congress on Wednesday...in a preliminary version circulated for public comment, regulators predicted that adding the cameras and viewing screens will cost the auto industry as much as $2.7 billion a year, or $160 to $200 a vehicle. At least some of the cost is expected to be passed on to consumers through higher prices.
The regulators estimate it will save about 100 pedestrian deaths a year, which puts the cost for each life saved at about $27 million, which strikes me as high in comparison to the cost-benefit tradeoffs of other possible health or safety improvements. For example, for about $2,000, you can save one life by buying and distributing long-lasting insecticide-treated anti-malarial mosquito nets in Africa. So the $2.7 billion that NHTSA proposes to save 100 American pedestrians could instead save 1,350,000 Africans.
It's not clear if the rearview camera lives-saved projection accounts for the potential that some lives will be lost because of the policy. Suppose you decide to drive your old car — the one without air bags, without antilock brakes, without fancy emissions controls, and without rear shoulder belts — for another year because the new rear-camera rule just made the new car you were going to buy more expensive. What are the unintended consequences there?
Bloomberg Businessweek helpfully notes that "The auto industry is directing its ire at the Obama Administration, but it was President George W. Bush who signed the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act in 2008. Named for a two-year-old boy who was killed in 2002 when an SUV driven by his father backed over him, the law gave NHTSA three years to come up with new rules to 'reduce death and injury resulting from backing incidents' by requiring 'additional mirrors, sensors, cameras, or other technology to expand the driver's field of view.'"
Neither article mentions that Sony, which makes the cameras, registered to lobby on the bill.
Nor did I see any mention of how government-subsidized hybrid and electric cars — which lack the motor noise of an internal combustion engine — have contributed to the pedestrian death problem.
NHTSA is a different agency from the National Transportation Safety Board, the one that proposed a ban on all cellphone use, even hands-free, while driving.