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Rearview cameras on cars by 2014? It's so 21st century

Honda Crosstour rearview camera

Forget healthcare reform's "individual mandate." Now the government is looking to take away your right to back into stuff with your own car.

That's right: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is proposing that by 2014 all new cars sold in the United States have rearview cameras.

Now, full disclosure: In four decades of driving, I personally have backed into one car, one pole and the side porch of my house -- twice. (In my defense, none of this happened until the kids came along and I had to buy that stupid minivan!) And showing that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, my teenage son's first, and only -- so far -- accident came when he backed into an iron railing. (I'm so proud!)

And, as The Times story Tuesday said:

Each year, 228 people die after being struck by passenger vehicles going in reverse -- including about two children a week, according to the New York Times.

Accidents caused by drivers backing up also injure 17,000 people annually.

Plus the cost to automakers of the rearview cameras, now found on fewer than half of 2012's cars, isn't prohibitive: about $160 to $200 for each car.

So, on balance, I count this rule as a good thing -- for the nation and individually.

(Although I must confess that when I rented a car a few years back with a rearview camera, the kids couldn't resist taking turns checking themselves out on the dashboard screen. Which both seemed to defeat the purpose of the camera and led to a severe scolding by their mother.)

What's most interesting about this, though, has been the sea change in attitude among Americans about cars and safety. 

When seat belts were introduced in the late 1950s, for example, the U.S. auto industry resisted efforts to make them mandatory, arguing that people didn’t want them -- as evidenced by the fact that, when they were offered as extra-cost options, few people ordered them.

Thankfully, automakers lost that fight. But for quite some time, many people also resisted state laws requiring the wearing of seat belts.

Airbags were also controversial when mandated, with automakers arguing, again, about cost, and with others doubting the claim that they would improve passenger safety.

But somewhere along the way, Americans went from penny-pinching, throw-caution-to-the-wind, I'll-die-a-gruesome-death-behind-the-wheel-if-I-want-to rugged individualists to consumers of safety at all costs. (See the silly "Baby on Board" phenomenon.)

Now, the more airbags the merrier. Cars have collapsible steering columns, anti-lock brakes, safety glass, crush zones, reinforced doors and roofs, and loads of other safety features.

Sure, we still sometimes show vestiges of our wicked past: People -- very unsafely -- call and/or text while driving, for example.

But for the most part, we embrace all the new gadgetry.  And safety now sells. So automakers bring us more of it.

For example, as The Times story says:

Automakers unveiled an assortment of other preventative safety features at the L.A. Auto Show in November.

Infiniti showed off its backup collision intervention technology, which not only beeps when its sensors detect potential obstacles but also automatically brakes to avoid a crash.

A similar function from Ford offers blind-spot warnings. Cadillac has a virtual bumper feature that stops the car before it hits anything.

That's right: Soon your car may do more of the driving -- and the accident avoidance -- than you do.

The bright side of that equation? You may be able to call or text in complete safety.

"Passive Driver on Board," anyone?

RELATED:

Volkswagen's wooly Bulli

High-tech cars -- and equally high-tech security issues 

New cars vs. old cars -- the 'old paint' economic indicator

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo: The dashboard of the Honda Crosstour features a rearview camera and monitor that are used when the car is backing up. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

 

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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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