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The danger of blind zones

The area behind your vehicle can be a killing zone

Last updated: April 2014

Every year, children are injured and killed because drivers (in 70 percent of cases, parents and relatives) don't see them while backing up.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports that almost 300 individuals are killed and 18,000 injured annually in backover crashes, with most victims being children and the elderly. (Read: "Report finds backup cameras can help prevent needless tragedies.")

The problem is that significant blind zones—the area behind a vehicle that a person can't see from the driver's seat—can obscure children and obstacles. A contributing factor is that larger vehicles (SUVs, pickups, and minivans), which have become increasingly popular, have larger blind zones than passenger cars. Further, car design trends have led to thicker pillars, high rear decks, and short rear glass.

To help consumers understand how large some blind zones are, Consumer Reports has measured the blind zones of hundreds of popular models, using both an average-height driver (5 feet 8 inches) and a shorter driver (5 feet 1 inch). To measure the blind zones, a 28-inch traffic cone was positioned behind the vehicle at the point where the driver could just see its top. As we have found over the years, the largest vehicles tend to present the greatest dangers.

Car type Avg. driver Short driver
Small sedans 12 ft. 24 ft.
Midsized sedans 13 22
Large sedans 13 23
Wagons/hatchbacks 9 15
Small SUVs 13 22
Midsized SUVs 18 28
Large SUVs 19 31
Minivans 15 26
Pickups 24 35
Sporty cars 13 21

We have seen real progress in the increased availability of backup cameras. These cameras are activated automatically when a car is put in Reverse, showing the area immediately behind the vehicle on a screen. The best systems respond quickly and have large, central display. Certainly, the systems vary, but in general they provide a helpful view to an area that otherwise could not be seen via mirrors and through the windows.

We feel strongly that backup cameras can provide a valuable safety benefit. In fact, Consumer Reports, through its Consumers Union policy and advocacy arm, has called for federal standards for passenger-car rear visibility.  Such a rule was mandated in Congress in 2008, but it has not gone into effect. Consequently, Consumers Union joined a lawsuit against the Department of Transportation because the agency failed to finalize the rule proposed in 2010. Congress ordered the rule issued by 2011, but the Obama administration has repeatedly delayed it. In late March 2014, NHTSA finally passed a rule that would require backup cameras to be installed in all vehicles by May 2018.  

We encourage all car shoppers to consider choosing a model with this valuable feature. Beyond safety, the cameras provide conveniences, such as easing parking and simplifying trailer hook up.

Bottom Line
Your best defense against backover accidents is to get out of your vehicle and check behind it just before you back up. If kids are nearby, make sure you can see them while backing up. And if your car has a rearview camera, make sure you use it.

   

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