Delay Issuing Rules Highlights Deeper Issues

It is difficult to imagine a worse experience for a parent than to back over his child and injure or kill him. But, because toddlers can quickly get to unexpected places, this tragedy can and does occur. Almost 8,000 times each year. Statistics reveal about 100 deaths and about 7,600 injuries occur in this fashion annually.

The horror of these deaths and injuries is preventable. One substantial tool to help is a backup camera that allows drivers to see blind spots behind their cars.

In 2002, Dr. Greg Gulbransen backed over and killed his 2-year-old son Cameron. Six years later, legislation entitled “Cameron’s law” was passed by Congress. But it has not helped a bit. Why not? Because in the five years since then the Department of Transportation has refused to implement appropriate regulations. And now it threatens to delay them further, perhaps until 2015. The matter was brought to light this week when Dr. Gulbransen joined another parent who inadvertently backed over her 3-year-old daughter in 2005 and the Consumers Union in a lawsuit filed complaining of the unreasonable delay of the Department of Transportation to implement the law.

As a legal matter, I am not sure how successful this lawsuit will be; yet it has already helped to raise awareness of the unconscionable delay in this instance. But the problem is bigger than that. The Department of Transportation and its agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, should serve as watchdogs and protectors of transportation safety. Instead, they are subjected to industry pressure and, as a result, often issue regulations that are weakened to the point of uselessness, for instance in the realm of vehicle rollover integrity. When that occurs, the public is worse off than if there had been no federal safety regulation at all, first, because the public erroneously trusts that rollover safety has been effectively provided, and, second, because many lawmakers and activist judges on the state level rule that the federal regulation “preempts” any effort on the state level to protect citizens.

Hopefully, the shameful delay to implement Cameron’s law may serve as the ringing of an alarm clock. Perhaps it various elements of society and will be the impetus to a thorough investigation of the failure of those agencies that have been funded to protect us.