NHTSA to study mirror-replacing sideview cameras

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October 3, 2019

Federal regulators are taking the first step toward allowing automakers to replace sideview mirrors with cameras, a change that automakers have been requesting for more than a decade.

In the Federal Register, officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requested $7,000 to study test cars equipped with sideview cameras.

“The safety of passive visibility-related technologies depends on both the performance of the systems and on drivers’ ability to effectively and comfortably use the systems,” regulators say in their filing. “This work seeks to examine and compare drivers’ eye glance behavior and aspects of driving behavior and lane change maneuver execution for traditional mirrors and camera-based systems intended to replace outside rearview mirrors.”

Automakers have pushed to get rid of sideview mirrors because they generate noise and lower fuel economy. Aerodynamics engineers sculpt car bodies to improve airflow and minimize wind resistance, but the stalks coming off vehicle bodies and mirrors disrupt airflow. Companies have also argued that cameras can give a better view of what’s happening around the car. Camera-based sideview systems, for example, could be placed near blind spots, giving drivers a wider field of view than a flat piece of glass. NHTSA has allowed such systems for rearview mirrors, approving systems that use cameras to generate images for the driver, but in those cases, the cameras displayed images on traditional mirrors, so if cameras failed, drivers would still have a view of their surroundings.

Regulators have generally opposed exterior cameras because of potential failure. As long as they’re not damaged, flat, reflective surfaces will transmit data to drivers, while cameras could fail if cars lose power or experience electronics problems.

The upcoming study doesn’t address those concerns, focusing instead of studying how drivers would use test systems. NHTSA plans to study passenger vehicle drivers and commercial truck drivers. Commercial vehicle safety equipment providers have also pushed for cameras instead of mirrors because of the large blind zones associated with trailers. http://www.nhtsa.gov

Honda’s 2016 Acura Precision concept car at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit uses
cameras instead of mirrors. Most concept cars eliminate sideview mirrors for aesthetic reasons, but
automakers would like to remove them on production vehicles to improve fuel economy and lower road noise.

California study: commercial truck owner operators unable to comply with strict emissions regulations

The larger the truck fleet, the more likely it is to be compliant with strict California emissions rules for commercial vehicles, a study from the University of California-Berkeley’s Labor Center found. Nearly half (44%) of vehicles out of compliance with the rules are owned by operators with three trucks or fewer.

“As a result of the capital barriers contractors face, this segment of the trucking industry has the lowest compliance rates with California’s current clean vehicle regulations, with compliance rates of 61% with the landmark Truck and Bus Rule, compared to 83% for large firms that directly employ truck drivers,” UC-Berkely researchers say.

Clean trucks cost nearly twice as much as traditional diesel models. Report authors find $134,000 for the average 2018 diesel vehicle vs. a projected $232,000 for the equivalent electric model by 2024. Studies also predict the higher-tech green trucks will cost more to maintain.

In addition to the higher sticker price, researchers say smaller fleets pay more in interest to finance purchases.

“Interest rates for private truck loans to large carriers average approximately 5%, according to a recent California Air Resources Board (CARB) electric truck cost analysis,” researchers say. “For contract drivers, interest rates are much higher. In fact, CARB created a subsidized loan program for contract drivers in California that reduced standard interest rates to 13.4%.”

State regulators have responded by creating the $1.2 billion subsidized loan pool and delaying some mandates to allow low-income truck drivers to stay in business. However, researchers say those steps have not improved fleet compliance.

“CARB plans to enforce compliance by de-registering 50,000 non-compliant California-registered trucks at the end of 2019 as an enforcement backstop, most of which are in the 1-to-3 fleet size category,” researchers say. http://laborcenter.berkeley.edu

California regulators estimated electric commercial vehicles, such as the Tesla Semi pictured, will cost
nearly twice as much as diesel trucks, making it hard for owner-operators to meet strict fuel economy rules.