RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne. America's auto industry can chalk up another success this week. The Obama administration has delayed putting into effect a new rule that automakers have argued is unnecessarily costly. [POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: The auto industry did not seek the delay, but wants the U.S. government to consider alternatives to backup cameras.] The rule sets a higher standard for rear visibility in cars. Safety advocates want rearview cameras installed in all vehicles. NPR's Brian Naylor reports the dispute is part of a continuing debate over the costs and benefits of regulation.
BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: The statistics are pretty grim - on average, 300 people a year die after being hit by cars backing up. Half of them are children under age 5. A group called KidsandCars.org produced this public service announcement warning of the dangers. A blind spot behind a large SUV could hide dozens of children.
(SOUNDBITE OF PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT)
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Behind the vehicle are 62 children, and not a single one could be seen.
UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: Technology already exists that can eliminate the blind zone. Please protect your children, and equip your vehicle. Don't back blind. See the children.
NAYLOR: In 2008, Congress approved a law to establish rear-visibility standards. Safety advocates were hoping that after two delays, the government would finally force automakers to comply, by installing backup cameras on all their vehicles. But this week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood once again delayed the regulation, stating in a letter to lawmakers that quote, "further research and data analysis is important, to ensure the most protective and efficient rule possible."
Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the industry's Washington lobby, says it wants the government to consider alternatives to backup cameras.
WADE NEWTON: Our feeling is, we'd urge the government to explore all the options out there - including mirrors - that can help expand the field of vision behind a vehicle because there really are a variety of tools that can be used.
NAYLOR: Janette Fennell, president and founder of KidsandCars.org, is skeptical car buyers are going to want to opt for the mirrors she says will be needed in place of cameras.
JANETTE FENNELL: What they're talking about are the type of mirrors that you see on a postal truck or on a school bus. I mean, these are very huge mirrors, and that's the only thing that would give you full visibility of what's behind your vehicle. I don't think the motoring public is going to want to do that.
NAYLOR: Joan Claybrook is a longtime advocate for tougher safety auto standards. She says the industry is stalling, as it has in the past.
JOAN CLAYBROOK: When airbags were first being considered, the manufacturers said people will hate airbags. And I was in the Department of Transportation then. We did all these studies and research, and people love airbags. And they'd love backup cameras.
NAYLOR: According to the car research site Edmunds.com, nearly half of 2012 model cars already come with rearview cameras, as standard equipment. To automakers, though, the rear-visibility rule is the most recent attempt by the government to dictate how cars are built. Wade Newton, of the Auto Alliance, cites recent mandates to make cars more fuel-efficient and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
NEWTON: There's no doubt that autos are a tremendously heavily regulated product. In the last decade, automakers have seen four rule-makings that will create costs of about $55 and a half billion. So there - clearly - is an impact on the industry.
NAYLOR: But safety can also be a selling point. Bruce Belzowski, of the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute, says some manufacturers believe it can give them an edge in the market.
BRUCE BELZOWSKI: So for example, you look at - in the probably mid-1990s, Lee Iacocca at Chrysler said - you know - I think that safety is going to sell. We're going to put dual airbags in all our vehicles. And it turned out to be a big seller for them, and it forced all of the other manufacturers to follow suit pretty quickly.
NAYLOR: The government estimates rearview cameras could drive up the cost of a new car, by as much as $200. Transportation Secretary LaHood says he expects the new rear visibility regulation will be issued by the end of the year.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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