Rear-view cameras could become mandatory in new cars and trucks by 2014 under new rules proposed by the U.S. Transportation Department.
Canada always follows the U.S. lead in automotive regulations so you should expect the technology to be standard here if the U.S recommendations go ahead. Adding cameras and display screens across the fleet will cost an estimated $200 a vehicle.
According to U.S. data, nearly 300 people are killed and 18,000 injured each year because of back-overs; approximately half the deaths are children under age 5. The U.S. government targeted blind spots in large SUVs and pickups in 2008. That legislation was named after a 2-year-old boy who was killed when his father accidentally backed over him in the driveway.
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The Transportation Department didn't specify which system should be used.
I've driven some vehicles which a have a little camera above the rear licence plate that switches on when you put the vehicle into reverse and flashes the picture across half of the rear-view mirror. That's difficult to see especially in bright sunshine.
The better systems have a small video display tucked into the centre console. However, the camera lens can get dirty or covered in slush and snow. If I'm backing out of anywhere, I always approach the car from the rear and have a good look. Rear-view cameras may help but they won't make up for poor safety practices.
Toyota safety package
Toyota is going to tackle its sales woes and reputational issues with a massive safety program. First up, it is going to put a package of safety technology in every vehicle it builds - from the cheapest to the most expensive.
The package is called the Star Safety System and Toyota claims it will be the first full-line manufacturer to make six active safety features standard on every new vehicle.
The six features are vehicle stability control, traction control, antilock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist and smart stop technology. That last one, of course, makes the brake pedal kill the throttle if for some reason the throttle gets stuck. It would have eliminated the "unintended acceleration" fiasco had it been in place earlier.
Over all, Toyota sales are down about 14 per cent this year in Canada while in the United States the drop is 8 per cent. Toyota doesn't have much new product at the moment while it is still struggling with the quality issue. In the last year Toyota has had two massive recalls related to unintended acceleration. The company temporarily halted the sale of key models that may have had sticky accelerator pedals. Then there were braking and corrosion problems. In total, Toyota has recalled about 14 million vehicles worldwide, more than 11 million of them in North America.
Stephen Beatty, managing director of Toyota Canada, says that the lessons it has learned the hard way in the past year have changed the company from top to bottom. "Do I own the safety issue in Canada from a negative viewpoint this year? Absolutely. Have we pushed harder on recalls than any other car company in the marketplace? Yes, we have. Do I have the dial cranked hard over to run safety and quality campaigns in the marketplace? You got it. We fundamentally believe that we have to do that," Beatty said.
Toyota is still the world's biggest car maker by sales volume, is massively profitable and has billions and billions in the bank. It looks like it would rather invest that money in safety technology than have to continue to spend it on sales incentives.
I told you so
This is for the many readers who kindly e-mailed me to say I was nuts in arguing that the judges at the Los Angeles Auto Show got it wrong by choosing the Chevrolet Volt as the Green Car of the Year.
My choice, the Nissan Leaf, just beat 40 other vehicles to be named Europe's 2011 Car of the Year, and that's green, non-green, the works.
The all-electric Leaf won the award from a jury of 57 automotive journalists from 23 countries. Who's ultimately right we should know fairly soon. Both cars are being shipped to showrooms now.