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Cooley On Cars
What's behind rear-view camerasRear-view cameras are becoming more and more visible on new model cars, but what does the law say about this technology?
-The backup camera, the bird's eye view to a dangerous place. Out here, some 300 people a year are killed in back-over accidents, another 18,000 or so are injured. You don't have eyes in the back of your head, but it sure helps to have one on the back of your car. Our partners at State Farm pointed out the tragic reality that 44 percent of back-over fatalities involve kids under five who can be impossible to see via the car's mirrors or even looking at the back. And people over 70 are at the next greatest risk, accounting for a full third of back-over fatalities. That's why federal authorities are moving to soon require a basic backup camera in every car over a multi-year phase-in period. Now, since you're watching this show, I know you're interested in what the technologies are that are available, both on the car you buy from the factory or the camera you add to the car you have already. All but the most basic backup cams today display both trajectory lines and distance lines. They may also combine with sonar sensors to give you an audible or even visual indication of proximity. We've seen more cars come with variable view rear cams since about the 2012 model year. They let you magnify or change the angle of view of the backup camera. If you want more than a rearview, there are front camera pairs mounted on the front bumper corners and they let you nose out of a tight spot, for example. And there are bird's eye view camera systems that use front, rear, and side mirror cams to give you a look at the car's perimeter. Night vision cameras are still quite exotic but found in some high-end cars. They display what's out there based on infrared technology and some will even call out what appears to be a pedestrian or animal based on its heat signature. With so many cars coming from the factory with an LCD screen on the dash, displaying the view may be no issue. And what if you got an older car? You drive a 2000 Sentra, how do you get rearview camera into this guy? There's not even a screen here, just vents. Well, a couple of ways. You can get an aftermarket camera kit that will give you the rearview in a portion of the rearview mirror. Hook that up to a camera you can add to the back. Or that same camera you add in the back can feed a screen that pops here, a motorized one, out of a single din aftermarket stereo. It's a little slower to invoke if it's not already up, but it gets you there. I'd like to tell you these cameras are a perfect solution, but in my experience, the key is to not rely on them too much. They show you a lot, but they also edit out much and they can really distort the distance and rate at which you're approaching an object. Oh, by the way, here's a favorite low-tech tip for high-tech cars which are almost soundproof these days, drop the window as well as the radio when you're backing up. It might just buy you the reaction time between whoa and crunch.