“…whether you want one or not.” [Zenon Evans, Reason, earlier here and here] Congress mandated in 2007 via the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act — remember, laws named after victims are usually bad laws — that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, develop rules mandating such cameras in order to reduce the rate at which drivers backing up inadvertently run over persons behind them, sometimes their own infant family members. It delayed doing so, in part, because of the regulation’s exceedingly high cost — $2.7 billion by one estimate — and because the estimated ratio of lives saved to costs inflicted fell well below the agency’s own standardized threshold for action. Still, the text of the law forced its hand.
My Cato colleague Peter Van Doren, editor of Regulation, notes that “in this case, NHTSA was responding to its own analysis that determined (p. 143) that driver error is the major determinant of the effectiveness of backup assist technologies including cameras.” Former regulatory oversight director Cass Sunstein, at Bloomberg View, offers a view somewhat more sympathetic toward the regulation.
By making cars materially more expensive, the rule will make it harder for many poorer households without cars to graduate to car ownership. A new Urban Institute study by Rolf Pendall, Evelyn Blumenberg, and Casey Dawkins tends to reinforce the intuitively plausible notion that wage earners who succeed in acquiring cars have significantly better chances of making economic progress:
Housing voucher recipients with cars tended to live and remain in higher-opportunity neighborhoods — places with lower poverty rates, higher social status, stronger housing markets, and lower health risks. Cars are also associated with improved neighborhood satisfaction and better employment outcomes. Among Moving to Opportunity families, those with cars were twice as likely to find a job and four times as likely to remain employed.
Since poverty takes a toll in health and life expectancy, safety-enhancing mandates that drive up the price of cars have negative as well as positive health impacts.