The federal government wants automakers to install back-up cameras in all new vehicles starting in late 2014.
The plan, announced Friday, received a strong endorsement from insurance industry and other analysts and is likely to get some level of support from car manufacturers.
"There is no more tragic accident than for a parent or caregiver to back out of a garage or driveway and kill or injure an undetected child playing behind the vehicle," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said. "The changes we are proposing today will help drivers see into those blind zones directly behind vehicles to make sure it is safe to back up."
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that, on average, 292 fatalities and 18,000 injuries occur each year as a result of back-over crashes. The agency said children and the elderly were the most common victims. About 44% of the fatalities in such accidents are children and 33% are people over 70, it said.
NHTSA said its proposal was designed to keep drivers from running over pedestrians who might be crossing behind their vehicles. It could also prevent parking-lot bumper thumpers.
The camera systems show motorists what's behind them via a video display on the dashboard. They typically feature a bell or alarm that alerts the driver if an object is within the camera's field of view.
Such systems are available on some models now, usually as an expensive option, but the price is coming down.
"With available technology, there is no reason to accept a blind spot of any size. Back-over deaths are particularly tragic, and the systems already exist to prevent them," said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a nonprofit group funded by the auto insurance industry that analyzes auto safety and driving issues.
Carmakers will probably endorse at least some aspects of the proposal, said Gloria Bergquist, vice president of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
"We are strong supporters of finding ways to protect children around vehicles," Bergquist said. "There are several options in the proposal, and we are assessing which ones we are going to support."
The engineering staff at the manufacturers alliance received a copy of the proposal Friday and was just starting to review it. Safety regulators have given the public 60 days to make comments.
"We are looking at this with an open mind," Bergquist said.
General Motors Co., the largest U.S. automaker, declined to comment, saying the topic was an "industry issue" and referring questions to the trade group.
Ford Motor Co. used the NHTSA proposal to pitch its inclusion of the systems in its vehicles, saying that rear-view cameras would be available on nearly all Ford and Lincoln models by the end of 2011.
"Our research shows that visibility is one of the biggest customer concerns today," said Jim Buczkowski, director of electrical and electronics systems engineering at Ford.
The automaker has developed a variety of technologies to cut down on blind spots, including a radar-based system that detects cross-traffic in blind spots.
But these features add to the price of the car. The rear-view camera system adds about $400 to the price of a Ford.
Toyota Motor Co. also is adopting the technology.
Back-up cameras are standard or optional in 10 Toyota models and all Lexus models. In some, such as the Venza crossover and Sienna minivan, camera systems provide nearly 180 degrees of coverage to help drivers see approaching vehicles when backing out of parking spaces or garages. Some Lexus sport utility vehicles also have a front-end system that can view blind spots around the front wheels, said Mike Michels, a Toyota spokesman.
"This proposal from NHTSA strikes us a good idea made possible by advances in the necessary technology and reduced costs," said James Bell, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book, the auto information company.
He said that once a driver uses a back-up camera while pulling into or leaving a parking space, "to consider driving without one suddenly feels very outdated and dangerous."
To meet the requirements of the proposed rule, 10% of a maker's new vehicles would have to be equipped with the systems by September 2012, 40% by September 2013 and 100% by September 2014. The proposal and information about how to submit comments are available online at http://www.nhtsa.gov/Laws-Regs.