Mesa Tragedy Seems To Support Need For Backup Safety Technology

By Ray Stern Within a few short years, accidents like the one that happened to Ashley Mortensen last night will be less common.

Just as breakaway steering columns, safety glass and even rear-view mirrors were once seen as optional safety measures, backup-safety technology is poised to become standard on all vehicles in the near future, possibly saving the lives of people like Mortensen.

When a 53-year-old man accidently kills his 21-year-old daughter because he can't see her standing behind his hulking Ford F-250 pickup, the blame can't be assigned solely to pilot error. Police say Peter Mortensen was not impaired by drugs or alcohol.

The fact is, all vehicles have rearward blind spots -- some worse than others. And at least some of the reason for so-called "backover" deaths seems to be due to that inherent flaw.


A new law passed by Congress and signed by President Bush this year orders new standards to be created by 2010 for rearward visibility in automobiles. It looks like the first step in soon-to-be mandatory rear-view cameras or backup sensors.

According to the Consumers Union, cases of kids getting crushed by vehicles backing up more than tripled in this decade, and "now account for half of all non-traffic fatalities involving children."

Of course, it's unknown whether a camera or backup sensor could have saved Mortensen's life. But Mesa police say it's at least possible, given preliminary reports. Mortensen was backing up his truck to get a better view of a house fire. The F-250 struck his daughter, knocking her to the ground, and he kept backing up over her until he felt his tire hit something.

Cameras may be the best option to give drivers the greater awareness of surroundings they need, according to a 2006 report by the National Highway and Transportation Administration.

Fish-eye backup cameras on some new vehicles give a clear and spectacular rear view, usually on an LCD-screen mounted in the center dashboard area. But cameras have plenty of drawbacks, as the NHTSA report notes. Speed, reaction time, sun glare and other factors can affect a camera's ability to help avoid an accident.

True, a camera system adds hundreds of dollars to a vehicle's sticker price, though the price will come down as they become widespread.

Airbags are sort of expensive, too.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.