The Dos and the Don’t of Backup Cameras

The Dos and the Don’t of Backup Cameras

While backup cameras have the potential to cut collisions and save lives, they are only a tool to supplement safe driving practices.

This year will mark the second model year that sedans, SUVs, and light-duty pickups in the U.S. will be required to be equipped with back up cameras.

Though this piece of technology is endorsed by government agencies and safety experts alike, using a backup camera has its risks.

Among its benefits, research has shown that backup cameras have reduced collisions, preventing about one in six police-reported backing crashes, according to research conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Once all new vehicles under 10,000 pounds are equipped with backup cameras, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates cameras will be responsible for preventing up to 69 deaths annually.

There is little argument that backup cameras can make backing up safer — backup collisions are among the most common causes of crashes and fatalities. However, relying on a backup camera alone to be safe can be risky. While the cameras’ image quality continues to improve, many cameras are set at waist level (under the theory that low-to-the-ground children, pets, and stationary hazards will be easier to see), critics now point out that the cameras only have an 80-degree field of view behind the camera, meaning that 280 degrees are not covered. Cameras can also be affected by weather, including snow (the camera can be blocked) or rain (water droplets can make it difficult to see clearly).

Back with Extreme Caution

With or without the aid of cameras, backing up is one of the most dangerous activities that a driver can engage in, with most of collisions occurring in parking situations. In fact, according to NHTSA data, 17% of all backing fatalities and 52% of all back over injuries take place in nonresidential parking lots — a typically chaotic and volatile environment.

Backup cameras can help you navigate these situations much better — the IIHS estimates that backup cameras alone can reduce the driver’s blind spot by about 90%, but that still means that it doesn’t give a complete picture of the situation when backing up.

If you are driving a vehicle with a backup camera, there are some crucial dos and a don’t, which will help you and everyone around you to be safe, according to the AAA and the National Safety Council:

  • Do: Walk around your vehicle before you get in. Remember this acronym: GOAL, which means get out and look—starting on the passenger side, noting any obstacles such as a pole that you may have forgotten about or didn’t notice when you pulled in, and keeping an eye out for kids or distracted walkers
  • Do: Look over both shoulders
  • Do: Check your side mirrors—an obstacle can be on the side of your vehicle, either something (a vehicle or a pedestrian) entering the area around your vehicle or an obstacle (a pole or a wall) that you may be in danger of colliding with 
  • Do: Use your back up camera, checking the camera image, side mirrors, and surroundings when backing out of a parking spot
  • Do: Take your time — backing up isn’t a race; safety should always be your No. 1 priority
  • Don’t: Rely on the backup camera exclusively while backing up.

More generally, if possible, limit the number of instances when you must back up. If possible, pull through parking spots so your vehicle is pointed head out (unless it’s a slant parking spot, which could make pulling out more dangerous), or back into the spot if that is permitted.

Driving Tools

Backup cameras have the potential for making drivers much safer, but, as with any tool, it’s only as good as the driver using it.

An over-reliance on backup cameras or any driving safety technology will, over time, erode good, safe driving habits, raising your risk for an accident. Instead, use backup cameras as a supplement to your other driving tools and techniques. This is how you will be safer whether you’re pulling out of your driveway or a client’s parking lot.

And remember, your best safety equipment is your eyes and your brain — rely on them most of all.

Drive Safely!

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