The cost of mandating rear-view cameras on cars

(Cross-posted on the Staten Island Libertarian Party web site.)

This morning, I read a news headline from the LA Times which read, “Rear-view cameras on cars could become mandatory.” An excerpt follows.

The federal government wants automakers to install back-up cameras in all new vehicles starting in late 2014.

Rear-view camera on a car, courtesy of Motor Trend

The plan, announced Friday, received a strong endorsement from insurance industry and other analysts and is likely to get some level of support from car manufacturers.

Of course car manufacturers will support it; it brings in significant revenue. The same article states, “The rear-view camera system adds about $400 to the price of a Ford.”

As per the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, new car sales have averaged around 7.5 million per year for the past ten years. 7.5 million cars at $400 a pop is an additional $3 billion a year. Granted, technology will reduce the cost of implementation, but we’re still looking at lots of money here.

And what do we get for our money? The LA Times article also states, “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that, on average, 292 fatalities and 18,000 injuries occur each year as a result of back-over crashes.” That’s $164,000 per fatality or injury (assuming the $3 billion cost.) Or, $3 million per fatality and $118,000 per injury. Seems expensive to me. Couldn’t we install a device on cars which create an audible beeping sound when the car is in reverse? After all, it’s on most large trucks, specifically to mitigate the same problem (look out, a big vehicle is backing up). I’d imagine such a device would be much cheaper than $400 per car, and would likely have a similar effect on reducing injuries and accidents while moving in reverse.

Want a more effective solution? Tell your lawmakers to legalize a driver’s side mirror which eliminates blind spots (source: Scientific American). Yes, such a device has been patented since 1994, which, according to the patent, would help eliminate up to “4 percent of vehicular accidents in 1994″ caused by merges and lane changes. It’s illegal because “current federal safety standards for motor vehicles require driver’s side mirrors to be of ‘unit magnification’” — in other words, flat. Sure, it won’t solve the rear-view problem, but maybe it would solve a bigger problem — at a lower cost.

More government-inspired inefficiency. Let’s hope this one dies before it becomes law.

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