Man Who Lost Son Blames Obama Administration for Delayed Regs

“It’s mindboggling that two more children like Cameron are killed every week, yet the [Obama] administration is content to postpone doing anything about it. This isn’t some technical abstraction, it’s about actual people being injured and killed.”

Cameron Gulbransen, age 2, killed in 2002 vehicle backup accident

Cameron Gulbransen, age 2, killed in 2002 vehicle backup accident

Those are the words of Greg Gulbransen, a New York pediatrician who in 2002 accidently backed his vehicle over his son, Cameron, 2, causing what Gulbransen has described as his son’s “sudden and horrible death.”

Gulbransen and Susan Auriemma, who in 2005 injured her daughter, Kate, in a vehicle backup accident, have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Transportation for failing to issue regulations to prevent such accidents from happening.

Kate Auriemma, who was 3 at the time of the accident, suffered no permanent injuries. Both accidents occurred on the families’ own driveways. Gulbransen and Auriemma both live in New York, where the lawsuit was filed. Three consumer advocacy groups have joined the two parents as plaintiffs in the suit.

The lawsuit, filed on Sep. 25, asks the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York to order the Department of Transportation to issue regulations on vehicle back-up cameras within 90 days. If the court were to order DOT to issue regulations quickly and if DOT complied, the regulations would still be appearing two years late, according to a 2007 law. The plaintiffs contend DOT has delayed the rule unreasonably.

In 2007, Congress passed a law requiring backup warning devices on all new cars and light trucks. The law was called the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act. The law does not specifically require rearview cameras, but most subsequent discussion about the law’s enactment has focused on cameras as the solution.

When Congress passes such a law, the next step is for the Department of Transportation to develop regulations governing how the law will be implemented and enforced. Congress ordered the DOT to have such rules in place by 2011. If that deadline had been met, all 2014 model vehicles would be required to have the cameras or some other form of backup warning device. However, it is 2013 and no regs are yet in place.

Gulbransen’s comment blaming the Obama administration is in a news release issued on the day the lawsuit was filed. Back in November 2011, the Transportation Department sent draft regulations to the White House for review. In June of this year (yes, that’s 19 months later), the White House sent the regs both to the DOT for more work. The DOT now says it hopes to issue regulations by January 2015. That would be four years later than the 2007 law called for.

In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post on the day before the lawsuit, Gulbransen wrote:

“Five years after my son Cameron died in a car crash, Congress passed a law, named after my boy, to ensure that such a tragedy never happened again. But five more years have passed, and the safety fix that Congress ordered completed by 2011 has been needlessly delayed. I’m suing the Obama administration to compel it to do what Congress directed. … I thought my tragedy was a freak accident. But I soon learned that each week dozens of toddlers in the United States are struck by drivers backing up,”

The Obama administration may be dragging its feet on the regs to give automakers time to comply voluntarily. A majority (53%) of 2013 model cars and light trucks have rearview cameras as standard equipment. Honda and Acura will be the first manufacturers to have rearview cameras standard on all vehicles starting with the 2014 model year.

According to a 2010 report by the DOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 228 people are killed each year in vehicle backup incidents. Almost half are children under age 5 and many of the rest are adults over age 70.

In addition, the problem of vehicle backup accidents is made worse by diminishing rear visibility in newer vehicles due to shorter, thicker pillars to meet new rollover standards; smaller windows to reduce weight; and higher vehicles, which makes it even harder for drivers to use rearview mirrors to see what is on the ground behind them.

That same 2010 DOT report estimated that 95 to 112 deaths and more than 7,000 injuries could be prevented each year by requiring the cameras on all new vehicles.