R. Scott King, BSME, Principal Automotive / Mechanical Engineer
The automotive and vehicle safety industries call them “Backover Events”: the accidental, unintended reverse (or backing) maneuver, often resulting in injuries to pedestrians and by-standers. In a recent report to Congress, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates nearly 200 deaths and 8,000 injuries occur each year from these events, despite long-standing vehicle design standards targeting their reduction. To be sure, those design standards and requirements, as well as voluntary efforts by the manufacturing communities, have had a positive effect, for without them the statistics would likely be far worse. Recently, however, the automotive industry took an additional major step to reduce the risk and occurrence of such events. Specifically, beginning with the 2018 production year, all passenger vehicles are required to have backup cameras. Typically utilizing in-dash screens, these devices provide a rearward-looking view typically not provided by the vehicle’s mirrors. A driving force behind this requirement was reducing backover events involving small children that are typically small enough to fit within a vehicle’s so-called “blind spot”. Now into its second year of production, regulators are awaiting data to evaluate the efficacy of these new systems.
While backover events involve the affirmative, driver-controlled action of reversing, unintended rollaway events typically occur without anyone seated at the vehicle controls. Classified as non-traffic events, NHTSA reported 360 deaths due to unintended vehicle rollaway events during a recent 3-year study. Even more than backover events, specific vehicle standards exist to help minimize their occurrence, and the manufacturing community continues to implement new strategies, as well. In particular, recent trends in vehicle evolution seem to be changing from “traditional,” mechanical transmission selector systems to one controlled by electronics. Even a casual survey of these newer electronic systems reveals subtle, but potentially significant changes, to how operators interface with their vehicle during parking maneuvers and vehicle egress, as well as the feedback the vehicle provides them to assure the vehicle is secure. Indeed, one such system has been recalled because NHTSA deemed it was not safe; however, it, as well as systems utilized by other manufacturers, continues to evolve. Here too, the automotive industry is evaluating whether and how these new systems affect vehicle safety and what, if any, future changes may be required.
R. Scott King, BSME, Principal Automotive/Mechanical Engineer with DJS Associates, Inc., can be reached via email at experts@forensicDJS.com or via phone at 215-659-2010.