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 THE CONSUMERS UNION PERSPECTIVE
Here, a monthly perspective from Consumers Union on the latest challenges—and possible solutions—facing U.S. consumers today. See archived letters.



A new law helps make vehicles safer

The Gulbransen family
TRAGEDY  The Gulbransens' toddler was killed when he wandered unseen behind an SUV.
One evening five years ago, pediatrician Greg Gulbransen left his 2-year-old son, Cameron, with his wife inside their house in Oyster Bay, N.Y., while he backed their SUV into the driveway. Moments later Cameron, who had managed to slip outside and behind the car, was struck in the driveway and killed. The SUV that the Gulbransens thought was a safe choice for the family had a rear blind zone so long that Gulbransen could not see his small son.

Kids and Cars, a nonprofit group that tracks deaths and injuries to children in and around motor vehicles, estimates that at least two children are killed by backovers every week. Many more are treated in hospital emergency rooms.


dangerous flaws

With large vehicles, especially, the area behind the vehicle that can't be seen by the driver can be significant. Since 2002, Consumer Reports' auto engineers have been measuring blind zones for all vehicles we test, using a 28-inch traffic cone, about the size of a small child. We take measurements with an average-sized driver of 5 feet 8 inches and a shorter driver of 5 feet 1 inch, finding the distance at which the driver can see the top 1 inch of the cone. (Results are free at the Car Safety page.)

We've found that the average midsized SUV has a 23-foot blind zone; without an optional backup camera, the 2006 Jeep Commander Limited with its third-row seat in the up position had a blind zone of 69 feet for short drivers. Even sedans have an average blind zone of 17 feet.

Some vehicles need other improvements. Poorly designed power windows entrap arms, necks, and heads. And gear shifts without interlocks can be knocked into a position that allows a car to roll. Such incidents have killed more than 1,350 children, at least 231 in 2007 alone, according to Kids and Cars.

Inexpensive and uncomplicated fixes can effectively eliminate those hazards. While automakers voluntarily equipped many vehicles with them, until now, they haven't been required.


requiring safety features

In 2003, Consumers Union teamed up with Kids and Cars; the families they worked with, including the Gulbransens; and other groups to push for mandatory vehicle safety standards.

The Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act became law in February. It directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue standards that will lead to safety technologies on all autos. Included are provisions for a rear-visibility standard, brake-shift precautions, and the evaluation of power window sensors. The DOT must also establish a database of related noncrash incidents, which the government hasn't tracked.

This hard-won legislation will make vehicles safer for all of us, especially kids.