Feds Vs the Future: NHTSA Begins Tests on Mirror-replacing Cameras

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
feds vs the future nhtsa begins tests on mirror replacing cameras

With camera systems replacing mirrors on vehicles eligible for sale in other parts of the world, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has decided to test how drivers might make use of them in the United States. On Tuesday, the agency said it plans to test “driving behavior and lane change maneuver execution” in cars with traditional mirrors and camera-based visibility systems.

The NHTSA also said it’s soliciting public comments on the matter, signaling that the agency is at lease semi-serious about allowing digital screens to replace old-school mirrors on passenger cars.

While there’s nothing illegal about adding a camera system to upgrade a vehicle’s fore and aft visibility, replacing mirrors with a live stream of the road isn’t allowed in the United States. Yet the odds of things staying that way seem slim. Both Japan and Europe now allow the systems to replace traditional mirrors and reverse cameras have been made mandatory on all new vehicles sold inside the U.S. The industry has also petitioned the NHTSA, via the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, to allow the use of digital rear or side-vision systems.

The initial petition arose in 2014, but individual manufacturers have also plead their case separately. In its report on the NHTSA release, Reuters noted that Daimler issued a plea for camera systems intended for use on commercial trucks. But similar requests exist. Over the last couple of years, automakers have asked for all manner of exemptions from the NHTSA for autonomous vehicles — some of which included replacing mirrors with cameras.

However, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has repeatedly said it’s considering the matter, there’s no formal decisions on the books. This new round of testing could change that.

Are camera-based systems better? Maybe. There are plenty of opportunities here that could trump traditional mirrors. Blind-spot monitoring can theoretically be made more robust (like on the Lexus ES), zoom functions can be incorporated, lanes can be highlighted, wider views can be offered, and your reward display could be situated inside the vehicle. Ditching side mirrors has the added benefit of reducing drag — something Audi noted when it made a camera-based mirror systems available (in Europe) on the new E-Tron crossover.

“[These systems are] an example of where automotive technology is ahead of the legislative curve,” Mark Dahncke, an Audi of America spokesman, posited.

Perhaps. But a lot of cutting-edge technologies being packed into new cars have drawbacks. The most obvious is cost. Mirrors are much cheaper to manufacturer and install. They’re also less complex, meaning there’s really nothing to go wrong outside of a good smashing — and you can still kind of use them when they’re broken. That’s not a luxury you’ll have when your side-mounted camera system goes on the fritz. Those babies will just go dark and cost you quite a bit more to repair or replace.

That doesn’t mean the U.S. should keep them off the table, however. Despite their drawbacks, camera systems could offer motorists more than they’re currently getting. We certainly don’t need them, but we’d like to see American drivers hungry for the technology satisfied, just not at the expense of those who prefer traditional mirrors and lower MSRPs.

[Images: Toyota]

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  • TMA1 TMA1 on Aug 29, 2019

    Great idea for manufacturers. As long as there's no traffic behind you, why not sell a little ad space on the screen while you're at it? Ads can be deleted of course, for a monthly subscription fee of 11.99 (billed automatically each month, cancel any time).

  • Retrocrank Retrocrank on Aug 29, 2019

    Baby, you're a rich man too...

  • Dukeisduke The "fix" is not a fix - it just assures that when the o-ring breaks down and leaks brake fluid onto the board, the fuse will blow and the car won't burn to the ground. The HECU ("Hydraulic Unit Assembly" in H/K parlance) will still be dead, and you'll have no ABS or ESC. So the car won't burn to the ground, but you'll be looking at an expensive repair. I priced the HECU (Kia p/n 58920-1M640) for the 2012 Forte Koup - the MSRP is $2,325.79, and I can get one from the online seller I buy from for $1646.65. It's not much labor to replace, but then you have to bleed the brakes, or preferably flush the system, since the car's 11 years old and could use a flush. Folks relying on a dealer will be out $3k or more for repairs.I went to the NHTSA site and filed a defect report (the only way I could find to comment on the recall) to tell them that they should force H/K to replace the HECUs on all the affected vehicles, instead of allowing them to just do the minimum.
  • SCE to AUX All right Hyundai - enough of this.These are all older cars, and I believe H/K issued a recall for the same thing before. My former 09 Sedona was recalled for an ABS fire risk. The solution was some sort of extra ground wire from the battery down to the ABS unit or something - I didn't trace it.H/K has a habit of issuing partial solutions with limited scope (saving face), then later expanding the recall greatly. They did this with the 2.4 engine debacle, corroding control arms, and now this ABS thing.As for the EV vs ICE fire debate, no need to stir that pot here. EVs use hydraulic ABS brakes as well, but they don't appear to be covered in this recall (yet... and it would only be the early Ioniq 1 EV, if any).Looking into my crystal ball, they'll probably have to recall the Ioniq 5/6 and Genesis GV60 for an ongoing charging issue, where the charging port heats up and limits the charging rate on an AC plug (at home).Following their usual pattern, a software fix was issued first, greatly slowing the charge rate. Owners are irate, and I think Hyundai is simply delaying the day when they have to replace the wiring harness and charge port on all their new EVs, at great expense.Sorry Hyundai - can't defend you on this one.
  • IH_Fever HK trying too hard to compete with Ford...
  • Kwik_Shift Eff HyunKia.
  • FreedMike Love the corporate speak here: "thermal incidents."