Reducing blind zones in big cars among bill's aims

The government would be required to examine a number of auto safety problems such as backovers and other deadly accidents involving children under a bill approved by a House committee today.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, on a voice vote, passed a bill that would require federal regulators to consider ways of diminishing blind zones in large sport utility vehicles and pickups, prevent vehicles from rolling away and making power windows more safe.

A Senate committee approved similar legislation in May following reports of children being backed over in their driveways.

Safety advocates estimate that about four children die each week in backovers, strangulation from power windows or from being left behind in hot vehicles.

Automakers objected to earlier versions of the bill, arguing that it would require them to install expensive backup cameras in their vehicles to meet the new standards.

Under the compromise, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would need to require vehicles to expand the rearward field of view to help drivers detect children or objects behind the vehicle.

The enhanced visibility could be accomplished through additional mirrors, sensors, cameras or other technologies. NHTSA would have to issue a final rule within three years of the bill's enactment.

“Nobody should have to back out of the driveway without seeing what's behind them,” said Jacqueline Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

On power windows, NHTSA would need to develop new rules to require the windows to automatically reverse direction if there's an obstruction in the way. If the agency decided not to issue final requirements, it would need to explain its decision to Congress.

The bill also puts into law a voluntary agreement approved last year by 19 automakers, who vowed to have brake interlock systems in all new vehicles by 2010.