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Transportation Q&A: Jessica Cicchino of IIHS talks rearview cameras, senior drivers

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Driving, of course, is a big part of life in Texas, including for seniors looking to maintain their independence. Older drivers could particularly see benefits from a new federal requirement mandating rearview cameras in automobiles.

The mandate, which took effect in early May, requires inclusion of the cameras in cars, buses and trucks that weigh fewer than 10,000 pounds. It’s the result of a lengthy process since Congress passed a law in 2008 requiring the development of a rule regarding rear visibility, according to the Los Angeles Times. The rule mandating rearview cameras had been announced in 2014.

Research by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showed rearview cameras reduced backing crashes at higher rates for older drivers. The 2016 study of police-reported backing crashes found that such crashes were 40 percent lower for people 70 and older who drove vehicles with a rearview camera, while crashes were reduced by 15 percent for drivers under the age of 70.

Among Texas residents commuting to work, about 80 percent drove alone in 2013 while another roughly 11 percent carpooled, according to U.S. Department of Transportation. Nationally, about 76 percent drove alone and roughly 9 percent carpooled.


We spoke with the author of the IIHS study, Jessica Cicchino, about the organization’s research on rearview cameras and why older drivers might especially benefit from them. Cicchino is the vice president for research at IIHS.

Edits for length and clarity were made to the questions and responses below.

AARP Texas: Generally speaking, why would having a rearview camera help a driver?

Jessica Cicchino, IIHS: A rearview camera makes more of the area behind a vehicle visible to the driver than they would be able to see by just using their mirrors or just turning their head to look behind them. One of our studies found that rearview cameras reduce the blind zone behind a vehicle by 90 percent on average. So rear cameras are another tool to help drivers see more when they’re backing up.

AARP: In your 2016 study on police-reported backing crashes, drivers 70 and older benefited most from these cameras. Why do you think that this was the case?

Cicchino: We think that cameras can be especially helpful for older drivers because they can sometimes have trouble turning their heads to see what’s behind them, which means they might be able to see even less of what’s behind them than a younger driver might be able to with a more flexible neck. Having this extra piece of vision is something that can be especially helpful if you can’t see quite as much yourself.

AARP: What circumstances are unique to senior drivers?

Cicchino: When it comes to parking, older drivers sometimes report being uncomfortable with it and avoiding parking spots where they need to back out. So if cameras can make them more comfortable, it could be something that could potentially increase mobility for older drivers. We’ve also seen that older drivers think they that they turn around to look behind them more than they actually do when they’re backing up. It’s another reason why cameras could be especially helpful for them. And we’ve seen that drivers with different kinds of parking assistance systems are just generally using them to help in their everyday parking scenarios. We don’t see people trying to back into spots more, but it can help drivers in the times when they know that they have to back, when they’re either backing out of a driveway or backing out of a parking spot when they go shopping.

AARP: What limitations do rearview cameras have?

Cicchino: Rearview cameras aren’t going to eliminate backing up crashes. Drivers still need to see obstacles in the cameras and respond appropriately to them by braking when they appear. And sometimes the view from the camera can be hard to see. So, for example, when it’s dark outside, if there’s an obstacle in the shade, if it’s raining, if the camera is dirty. So there are still times when drivers are going to have to use their eyes to see what’s behind them.

AARP: Do people generally know how to read the display of a rearview camera?

Cicchino: The displays can be different from each other, but some of them will just have just the picture of what’s behind you. I don’t know of any research that says that people might have trouble figuring out what’s on the display, but they certainly might, especially if it’s something unfamiliar to them or if it doesn’t seem to make sense when they’re looking at it.

AARP: Is there anything else that you feel like people should know or that you wanted to talk about?

Cicchino: There are other backing assistance systems out there that can help in addition to rearview cameras, and so consumers should consider those systems as well. Some of those would be rear parking sensors, and those would be the systems that beep when something’s close to you. And our research has also found that those systems seem to be especially helpful for older drivers because they might have trouble figuring out exactly how close they are to things behind them. Other systems would be rear cross-traffic alert, which would help you if you’re backing out of a parking spot and you have, say, two large vehicles beside you or a pole where you can’t see cross traffic coming behind you. And something we found to be really helpful is rear automatic braking, and these would be systems that if the driver doesn’t respond to warnings or doesn’t brake on their own, the system will brake for them. We’ve found that that kind of system, rear automatic braking in combination with cameras and sensors, can really make a dent in backing crashes. We see this rear automatic braking as stepping in in the situations where drivers weren’t aware that they had to stop.

And IIHS has rear-crash prevention ratings that we debuted a few months ago that we have on our website that looks at these other kinds of backing systems that aren’t standard, and in particular how well vehicles do with the rear automatic braking. And so consumers could look at that to get more information, even just about what vehicles have these systems.

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