QOTD: Should Backup Cameras Really Be Mandated?

Doug DeMuro
by Doug DeMuro
qotd should backup cameras really be mandated

A few months ago, the federal government of the United States – the same federal government who recently forced us all to use energy efficient lightbulbs – announced that backup cameras will soon be mandatory on all new cars.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that’s right: the era of the backup camera has arrived. In just a few short model years, you will not be able to buy an automobile in the United States without a backup camera. Everything will have one: Sedans. SUVs. Trucks. Minivans. Even BMW will begrudgingly install standard backup cameras, though doing so may involve removing other standard equipment, such as seats.

So with today’s column, I’ve decided to ask you, the reader, exactly how you feel about the spread of backup cameras in the United States.

Personally, I love it. I think it’s great. I say this because I drive a rather large vehicle, and I am constantly parallel parking it, and what I’ve noticed is that backup cameras ensure that I always a) see the car behind me, and b) have absolutely no idea how close I am to it.

Yes, my backup camera is kind of crappy. What I mean by this is, during the day, you can see approximately 80 percent of what’s behind you, except there are no lines to judge anything by, so you have no idea if you’re parked on the hood of the vehicle behind you, or if you’re four feet away from it. And then at night, it’s even worse: the backup camera is so poorly lit that it looks like the entire thing is filming the center of a trash bag.

So essentially, what I have learned, after two years of owning this vehicle, is that the backup camera is approximately as trustworthy as a James Bond villain who has a scary private island and a gigantic weapon that can destroy Connecticut with the push of a big red button.

But not all backup cameras are this bad. On the contrary, I’ve driven many modern vehicles with state-of-the-art backup cameras, and what I’ve noticed is that they are getting better and better and better with every passing model year. They have lines that tell you what direction you’re going. They have little green, yellow, and red symbols to show you how far away from everything you are. And the backup camera that hooks to Chrysler’s Uconnect system is so large that it looks like your entire reversing process is being broadcast on the jumbotron at a Lakers game.

So the whole backup camera thing has developed very well, which is why I’m kind of excited about it.

But there are some flaws to the backup camera. Cost is one. When the federal government mandates these things go on vehicles, it does not mandate that the vehicle prices stay the same. So the automakers take full advantage of this by installing a “standard” backup camera, and then jacking up the price of each vehicle by $1,100, even though it costs them the same amount of money to make a backup camera as it does for you and I to buy a Sharpie six-pack at Office Depot.

The same thing happened when airbags were mandated. Do you remember that? It was 1995, and you could buy a new Ford Aspire for like $2,100, including shipping, not including body panels. Well, here we are, 20 years and a lot of government-mandated safety features later, and now the cheapest Ford is like $12,000. I personally blame the government for this, because I think if it weren’t for annoying unnecessary “extras” like stability control, and ABS, and traction control, and seat belts, we could probably have a Fiesta for like eight grand. And we wouldn’t even need a Fiesta ST, because the new seat belt-less Fiesta would be so damn lightweight.

The other issue with the backup camera is complexity. Namely, the camera so eagerly mandated by the government; the one that works so well right now; the one that lets you see the world, will fail in approximately seven years, leaving you to question whether you should fix it or just look over your shoulder like your ancestors in years past. If you don’t fix it, this will come up at trial when you back over someone’s beloved pet zebra.

“He had a backup camera in his car,” people will say. “But it broke and he DIDN’T FIX IT!” And then the newspapers will call you zebrakiller, and you’ll have to resign in disgrace and walk out of the courtroom with your jacket over your head.

So we can see there are benefits and drawbacks to backup cameras, but I personally am all for it, because I have no other choice. What about you?

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3 of 361 comments
  • 210delray 210delray on May 10, 2015

    Wow, 355 comments, you won the internet, Ronnie! I just wonder how VolandoBajo had the time to write so many of them (one third?) and the length of most of them. All for a silly little backup camera?

    • VolandoBajo VolandoBajo on May 10, 2015

      @210Delray I was able to because first, I was motivated to, because this is more about the legitimacy and efficacy of government mandates in general (yes, some are good, but not all), and also about what "Truth About" the camera program there might be, such as changing estimates of costs, estimates of lives saved being left out of press releases, emphasizing all lives lost instead, etc, etc. And I happen to be semi-retired but mentally alert and active, (over active, I'm sure some would say). And I had a bit of time to more or less kill (outside my normal daily life) because my wife had foot surgery, and only needed my care for parts of each day, sleeping most of the rest. Also, I had several days between the time I located a used tuner for my Grand Marquis and the point at which I would be able to hit the road for a half day to buy it and install a tune. And if I hadn't done something like this to take my mind off of how anxious I was to see what the tune would do to the Tan Panther, I probably would have been mindlessly scribbling doodles, or surfing youtube for repair or modding videos. Finally, in the short time I have been reading TTAC, I have been impressed by the high quality of most of the writing, and the intelligent discourse most readers are able to offer. There will always be a certain percentage of trolls, dolts and/or people who just don't get it. But as much as I was striving to read up and comprehend what info was available about the program, I also learned more about it due to the interest of others, and their willingness to deal in reason and facts, rather than simply resorting to scornful dismissal of others who offered a viewpoint different from their own. In high school, I used to be the one of extemporaneous debaters, the "clean up hitters" who had to deal with new topics and data on short notice and put coherent arguments together. Ours was a strong team, very much due to the strength of my team members as a whole. But I too pulled my weight, or I wouldn't have gotten one of the extemp slots. And I haven't had this much fun debating a topic since high school, which I can assure was not last year. Last century and last millenium are facts, even last decade is not. I was a so-called "knowledge worker" for most of my career, but being semi-retired does not mean I want to spend my evenings and occasional insomniac nights polishing my golf clubs. In fact, I don't have any clubs. And night time is not the best time to detail or work on my GM. So this place has given me the opportunity to express my opinions on some topics I consider relatively important, and to do so in the company of, and with an audience of, for the most part, some above average co-readers and -writers. But I doubt I will do more than drop an occasional one or two shot medium length posts most of the rest of the time, and then only if it is about something I have some first hand experience with, and think I can add something that hasn't been advanced by anyone else. As much as I can enjoy doing something like this from time to time (the last time was over the inappropriateness of posting spoilers on Youtube without warning others, a few months ago), I also strive to remember a slogan a guy I used to work with had on his office wall. He was a former leader of a squadron of combat helicopters in Nam, an MOS (military occupational specialty) with an average life expectancy in combat measured in single digit minutes. Yet he was quick enough and smart enough to survive I think it was three tours while flying his own share of close air support missions. As a former USMC "grunt", I have great respect for two other military occupations, and one is medic/corpsman, and the other is the guys who would fly close air support for us. And Jerry had on his wall "God, please help me to remember that not everything has to be said, and that not everything that has to be said, has to be said by me." By the time I met and worked with Jerry, it was getting harder and harder to find anyone who had anything of great wisdom that I had not heard before. But with Jerry, that was just one of them. He was also the only client I ever encountered who not only accepted, but encouraged, the questioning of his strategies and the offering of alternate strategies. I suspect that might have been the secret of his survival in a nasty, brutish war. All wars are, but that one particularly so. And it seems only the wisest and the most foolhardy, were the ones who were able to place themselves in positions of maximum risk, and still find a way to survive. And Jerry wasn't foolhardy in the least. So with that, I will start spending less time debating points on TTAC, and spend more time, especially during the summer, going to car shows, car meets, and car shops. And maybe getting a chance to go see Baruth race, and perhaps even meet him and get to talk with him for a while. In my book, he is another one of those exceptionally intelligent, wise and ballsy people who make the world both a better and a more interesting place. And in the end, after all the debate, and after the anti-mandate and anti-nannycam-to-protect-the-careless positions I took, I will probably look around to find a way to retrofit a proximity sensor on my Panther, one that will warn me of anything under ANY part of the car, or down low and near to the front. I may even wire it up to have a (switchable) brake locking mechanism, though this may require me to go ABS. But I would welcome ABS also, if I could control when I had it one and when I wanted it off. I envision my proposed system as having different sounds depending on object location, and differing volumes and/or beat frequencies, depending on the nearness to where the rubber meets the road. And thanks to all of you who contributed something of intelligence, or of humor, whether I agreed with your position or not, and whether or not you feel justified to call names and heap scorn on others if they take a position contrary to the one you feel is the only right one (and you know who you are...I wasn't the only one to tell you, on this site, though on a different topic, in the last thirty days). And DeMuro, perhaps I was too harsh on you for not trying to expose the flaws in this approach. Perhaps you really just think it is an OK first approximation, something that is better than nothing. And you DID manage to get a lot of people to examine both the facts and their beliefs about this program, about other possible solutions to this problem, and about the government's approach to mandating what I believe are all too often design standards, where performance standards would be more appropriate and beneficial. Perhaps you may have even thought that this topic wouldn't even arouse that much interest among the readership, though it clearly did. If nothing else, you provided me with a few hours of intellectual stimulation during hours I could neither sleep, tune my Panther, or find anything any more interesting to read or write about. Though I do find myself questioning, after the fact, if I could have found a more meaningful and/or enjoyable, use of my time, compared to here. My jury is still out on that one...the debating committee in my head advances arguments on both sides. And perhaps that is just as well. I think it was Kant, or one of those other "piss-aunt" philosophers, as Monty Python called them, who said that the ability to hold two conflicting ideas in one's consciousness simultaneously was the mark of an intelligent person. Though it sometimes bothers me that that could also be the sign of a schizophrenic, paranoid or otherwise. But also remember, just because you are paranoid, it doesn't mean that no one is out to get you. (And if your name begins with a "P", the mere mention of black helicopters, which have been a topic of discussion, does not make one a believer in conspiracy theories. Nor does offering up a list of possible legitimate reasons for them make one necessarily overly-obsessed with them; it might just mean that they have some knowledge or experience of military operations and/or strategy. Try to broaden your imagination, and try to be a bit more neutral, if not charitable, in your interpretations of facts and/or conjectures offered by others. And I do sincerely apologize for tossing out the spurious comment about Prius batteries...it was just a cheap shot to see if you would yelp like most Prius owners, when anyone driving an SUV or V8, for example, ridicules the Prius as a transportation solution. It is a legitimate one, at least for some, although like all solutions, it has its limits. If I weren't into having a last go round with a fun ride, and if I had to commute fifty to a hundred miles a day, I'd probably be pushing one, too. Hopefully only in a figurative sense. But the battery "shot across the bow" was just a needle. Sorry, I try not to stoop, but old habits sometimes die hard. My son tells me I should be less snarky when someone annoys me, and he is right. I grew up with a bunch of intelligent smart-asses as classmates, and it didn't do much for my character, at least not in a positive way. Just made me quick to snap back when I thought someone richly deserved it. But in reality, I am neither elected to be a judge, or innocent enough to be able to cast a first, or even second, stone. And try to remember that you will gain more acceptance by recognizing the rights of others, even if they have not recognized yours, nor successfully asserted that the are of a protected class...they shouldn't have to, freedom of religion was a cornerstone of why our country came into existence. And if you're going to argue otherwise, you will never convince anyone, and will make the journey tougher for those you feel need protection, if you teach those who disagree with with nothing but scorn, contept and childish insults.) Sayonara, Buenas Noches and a Good Night to all, for what I hope was a Happy Mother's Day for all.

  • VolandoBajo VolandoBajo on May 11, 2015

    Oh, and to quote Matthew McConaughey regarding the backup camera program, as it is: "If the common good has got to make up fairy tales, it's not good for anybody." Which is the short version, for those who don't want to be bothered by details or facts.

  • Lou_BC "Owners of affected Wrangles" Does a missing "r" cancel an extra stud?
  • Slavuta One can put a secret breaker that will disable the starter or spark plug supply. Even disabling headlights or all lights will bring more trouble to thieves than they wish for. With no brake lights, someone will hit from behind, they will leave fingerprints inside. Or if they steal at night, they will have to drive with no lights. Any of these things definitely will bring attention.I remember people removing rotor from under distributor cup.
  • Slavuta Government Motors + Government big tech + government + Federal police = fascist surveillance state. USSR surveillance pales...
  • Johnster Another quibble, this time about the contextualization of the Thunderbird and Cougar, and their relationship to the prestigious Continental Mark. (I know. It's confusing.) The Thunderbird/Mark IV platform introduced for the 1971 model year was apparently derived from the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform (also introduced for the 1971 model year), but should probably be considered different from it.As we all know, the Cougar shared its platform with the Ford Mustang up through the 1973 model year, moving to the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform for the 1974 model year. This platform was also shared with the failed Ford Gran Torino Elite, (introduced in February of 1974, the "Gran Torino" part of the name was dropped for the 1975 and 1976 model years).The Thunderbird/Mark series duo's separation occurred with the 1977 model year when the Thunderbird was downsized to share a platform with the LTD II/Cougar. The 1977 model year saw Mercury drop the "Montego" name and adopt the "Cougar" name for all of their mid-sized cars, including plain 2-doors, 4-doors and and 4-door station wagons. Meanwhile, the Cougar PLC was sold as the "Cougar XR-7." The Cougar wagon was dropped for the 1978 model year (arguably replaced by the new Zephyr wagon) while the (plain) 2-door and 4-door models remained in production for the 1978 and 1979 model years. It was a major prestige blow for the Thunderbird. Underneath, the Thunderbird and Cougar XR-7 for 1977 were warmed-over versions of the failed Ford Elite (1974-1976), while the Mark V was a warmed-over version of the previous Mark IV.
  • Stuart de Baker This is depressing, and I don't own one of these.