• Backup camera recommended by NHTSA
  • Models with the feature listed on safercar.gov
  • Intended to reduce backover accidents

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal regulator charged with motor vehicle safety, announced it will add backup cameras to its list of recommended advanced safety technologies under its New Car Assessment Program. NHTSA says the technology, which displays a video image of the area behind a vehicle when the vehicle is in its reverse gear, helps prevent dangerous backover accidents and resulting injuries and deaths. NHTSA said it would also list new-car models that offer a backup camera on its website, safercar.gov.

To qualify for NHTSA's recommendation, a backup camera must meet three criteria. First, it must display a 10- by 20-foot area directly behind the vehicle. Second, it must display within two seconds of shifting the vehicle into reverse. Last, the display must be large enough for the driver to discern potential obstacles.

NHTSA's New Car Assessment Program includes crash tests and other safety assessments for every new car sold in the U.S. Its list -- called Recommended Advanced Technology Features, which now includes backup camera technology -- helps consumers to identify features that improve safety and also encourages lawmakers to implement requirements for effective, life-saving technologies. Electronic stability control, for example, was included on the list until it became a requirement for every new car beginning with the 2011 model year.

Backup cameras, also called rearview cameras or rearview video systems, could also be mandated. For now, not all new vehicles are equipped with the technology, so consumers who prefer the equipment need to find the vehicles that offer it.

That can be confusing, since some models provide a backup camera as standard equipment while others offer it on specific trim levels or as optional equipment. Safercar.gov lists the availability of backup cameras for each model tested, but it does not indicate whether the equipment is standard or an extra-cost option.

Still, adding the feature -- or simply choosing a vehicle with a standard backup camera -- could prevent injuries or deaths. In a report to Congress nearly five years ago, NHTSA estimated that 292 people per year are killed by vehicles backing up, and a further 18,000 people are injured. Children and the elderly, it found, are at highest risk. If backup cameras can help drivers to better see what's behind their vehicles, these numbers could be significantly reduced.

What it means to you: Backup cameras may become a requirement for all new cars in the future. For now, shoppers can check safercar.gov to find out which models offer the technology.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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