Of the roughly 17 million vehicles Americans will buy this year, almost all will now come with backup cameras.
A 2014 decision to make the device mandatory took effect in May 2018. The initiative aims at injuries and deaths resulting from reversing cars.
As the device becomes ubiquitous on our roads, what do the numbers say about backup cameras and what do they mean for your insurance?
The data suggests there could be a reduction in collisions; albeit, a small one.
The Insurance Information Institute published research looking at crash data in 22 states. Researchers compared vehicle models which had versions with and without backup cameras to measure the difference in incident rates.
By looking at these incidents, including whether the vehicle had a backup camera, the study could compare the impact of the cameras when controlling for other driver characteristics.
Overall, the findings suggest that backup cameras reduce collisions by 16%.
This fits with an earlier study that suggested drivers were less likely to collide with stationary objects when using a backup camera.
Even before the cameras became mandatory, they were fairly common. A 2014 estimate suggested they were installed in about half of new cars. This increased popularity noticeably coincides with a reduction in certain types of collisions.
Based on NHTSA data published in 2016, the number of people killed by reversing cars fell from 274 to 189 between 2008 and 2011.
Injuries, on the other hand, slightly declined over the period; moving from 13,000 in 2008 to 12,000 in 2011. So far so good.
But, the question is whether universal adoption of backup cameras translate into lower premiums on cars that have them?
The insurance impact
A study by The Zebra looked at the impact of different types of safety technology in cars. Comparing quotes with all other factors being equal, the study found that backup cameras did not lead to a reduction in premiums.
So if a piece of technology in cars causes us to crash less, why isn’t this rewarded with cheaper auto insurance?
The age gap
As the IIHS study demonstrated, accident reductions weren’t uniform across all driver types.
The biggest reduction was for drivers over the age of 70. For other age groups, any reduction was far less pronounced–if there was a reduction at all.
If this was reflected in the wider population it would diminish the power of rear-view cameras to reduce collisions on a significant scale.
As such, if the reduction in the chance of collisions is less striking for younger drivers, the case for it lowering premiums also decreases.
Those collisions in context
Accidents caused by reversing vehicles aren’t considered a major cause of collision and by extension insurance claims – at least that’s the picture from the data available.
In the final available year of NHTSA data, injuries and fatalities were 12,000 and 189 respectively. In 2016, over 37,000 lives were lost on U.S. roads while there were an estimated 2.3 million injuries from traffic crashes.
There are of course collisions that don’t cause any bodily injury. These accidents tend to be harder to gauge. As the IIHS research notes, many of these types of accidents may never be reported to police in the first place.
A safety tech paradox
Away from reversing collisions, the bigger issue is the dual impact of safety technology. These features have a role to play in reducing collisions and therefore claims, but they can also increase insurance costs.
This is because as cars come with ever more sophisticated technology, they become more expensive to repair.
What would have been a fairly minor bit of vehicle damage could now involve replacing a sensor or a camera, as well as the body work.
This is borne out in the inflation numbers. Bureau of Labour Statistics analysis of inflation in the auto market shows costs have gone up more than 25% between 2006 and 2016. This is a faster pace than the overall rate of inflation which was about 19% over the same period.
More expensive repairs mean higher insurance claims. So even if safety features mean we are less likely to have an accident and make a claim, the damage costs involved have gone up.
For this reason, the safety gains these features afford do not pay a proportionate dividend in our auto insurance savings.
This relates to a much bigger issue that the inclusion of backup cameras on car. But so far as that particular feature is concerned it has the potential to save lives, but will not be a major game changer for your premiums.