Smile, you're on govt. mandated rear-view camera

Earlier this summer, House Speaker John Boehner asked President Obama for a list of new regulations which would cost the taxpayers more than one billion dollars. To the surprise of many, Obama complied. The eye opening assemblage of new mandates and the price tags associated with them raised more than a few eyebrows, including those of Jeff Plungis and Mark Drajem, who broke down some of the highlights and lowlights for us at Bloomberg.

It will come as no surprise to regular readers that the biggest ticket items are placed at the feet of the EPA, but there was one unexpected entry from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It would require the installation of some fancy new camera equipment in your next car.

Obama Aug. 30 listed the seven proposals in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, responding to the Ohio Republican’s request for pending regulations that would cost business $1 billion or more.

Four proposals from the Environmental Protection Agency had the highest projected costs. The other $1 billion rule, proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, (NHTSA) would require rear-view cameras on cars. NHTSA was required to write that rule under a 2008 law passed by Congress.

Supposedly, pedestrian deaths caused by drivers backing into them number, on average, around 300 per year. But the NHTSA admits that the mandatory installation of these cameras might cut that down by roughly one third. And for this we’ll be driving up the per vehicle cost by as much as $200 for a total bill of $2.7B per year.

Saving lives is always a good thing and I’m not about to try to put a price tag on the value of any individual one, but there’s a larger point to be made here. You’ll note that the installation of such cameras doesn’t stop or even cut in half such accidents. Why? Because we’re not talking about a design failure or product quality issue in terms of the cars. We’re talking about bad drivers who don’t check behind them and run people down. Cameras, I’m sorry to say, are never going to overcome the sheer weight of human stupidity and carelessness.

Is this the proper role of government regulation, to say nothing of a cost-effective tool for the consumer during tight economic times? Might we perhaps save a few dollars by mandating, instead of cameras, signs on the dashboard that say, “Hey, dummy. Look behind you before placing vehicle in reverse?” Besides, there’s nothing stopping consumers from ordering the cameras if they want to take the personal responsibility for having them, and they can do that without Uncle Sam holding a gun to the head of the manufacturers.

On the plus side, I understand there’s a hack where you can direct your camera feed directly to YouTube through your SmartPhone and annoy all of your FaceBook friends.