Senate Panel Advances Vehicle Backover Safety Bill

May 18, 2007

New vehicles would need to offer more safety features to address backovers and other potentially devastating accidents involving children under legislation approved this week by a Senate committee.

Automakers would be required to address broad blind zones in large sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks that can lead to children being backed over. The bill would also require that new vehicles by 2010 have brake interlock systems, which prevent a vehicle from shifting out of park unless the brake pedal is depressed.

Several lawmakers have sought the safety improvements following reports of children being backed over in their driveways. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., noted that three children in his home state have been killed in backovers in the past month.

An estimated four children die each week from backovers, strangulation from power windows or being left in hot vehicles, safety advocates estimate.

“These are, as you might imagine, very difficult personal situations when a child is killed due to a safety issue of this type,” said Sen. John Sununu, R-N.H.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the bill by acclamation, sending it to the full Senate.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., was named in honor of Cameron Gulbransen, a 2-year-old Long Island, N.Y., boy who was killed when his father accidentally backed over him in his driveway.

Lawmakers have been developing a compromise after the auto industry objected to some provisions in earlier drafts of the bill. Automakers had interpreted earlier versions to mean they would need to install expensive backup cameras in their vehicles.

But under the changes, which automakers support, the industry would be required to enhance a vehicle’s rear visibility through additional mirrors, sensors, cameras or other technologies. The bill does not specify a specific technology.

The bill also requires the government to consider improvements to power window controls, responding to incidents in which children have had the windows accidentally closed on them.

It would also put into law a voluntary agreement approved last year by 19 automakers, who promised to have brake interlock systems in all new vehicles by 2010.

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