Your car may not have a backup camera (also known as a rearview camera), but the next vehicle likely will. Federal law requires that all passenger cars, trucks, and vans weighing less than 10,000 lbs be equipped with rearview monitoring technology. In most cases, that refers to rear-mounted video camera. For more than 100 years, rearview mirrors have been essential vehicle equipment. Mirrors can be handy, but they also have two significant drawbacks. They don’t allow you to see behind your car at the level of your rear windows and don’t offer a wide-angle view. According to the latest government statistics, these shortcomings lead to approximately 210 deaths and 15,000 injuries yearly due to backover accidents involving lighter vehicles. Unfortunately, 31% of these fatalities involve children under. These statistics do not include incidents where a driver hits something or runs over a toy or bicycle.
Backup Cameras: The Advantages
- The obvious benefit of a rear-facing camera is its ability to prevent injury-causing or potentially fatal backover accidents. It expands your field of view significantly below the trunk level. Cameras can also help eliminate blind spots by allowing you to see beyond what a mirror shows. Cameras have many other benefits beyond helping to protect property and people behind vehicles.
- Backup cameras, for example, can make it easier to park your car more safely and quickly. Rear-facing cameras allow the driver to see obstacles better and are easier to spot. Most backup systems also include a tone that warns you if you get too close.
- Most backup cameras have on-screen guidelines. These two lines guide you to find parking spots and out of them. A few cameras also have a middle line, which can be used to keep your vehicle in place. Modern color displays can change the color of the guidelines as you approach an obstruction. This, along with an audible warning system from the rear-facing sensors, can help to prevent backover accidents.
- A backup camera is handy if you are towing a trailer. A backup camera lets you see the trailer from close up as it is positioned with your vehicle’s hitch. Line color and audible sensors provide distance information.
How Backup Cameras Work
- The idea is simple: When you put your vehicle in reverse, a camera mounted to the rear turns off and sends an image of what’s behind it to a monitor. The reality is more complex. Even at their most basic, backup camera systems are sophisticated technology and getting more advanced every day.
- The camera’s image capture is the first step in complexity. Backup camera systems transmit the image that a normal camera sees, but instead of sending it to the monitor, they send a mirror image to correct the orientation. If you were to look at the direct feed from the camera, you would see a reversed image and be able to steer right when you want. This is why the system was designed to make sense of the display.
- Manufacturers usually install backup cameras in vehicles’ rear trim pieces. These cameras are very discreet and can be challenging to spot. They might be hidden in the bumper near the license plate or the trunk lid of an SUV or pickup truck. They are usually pointed at a downward angle to get the best view of your car. Wide-angle lenses can also reach a wider perspective than a rearview mirror.
- You can mount monitors anywhere within the driver’s visual field, but they are most commonly located in the middle of the cockpit. Most modern vehicles already have a screen for the entertainment system, climate control, and navigation. This screen is often used to display the backup camera system. Some versions use a portion or all of the rearview mirror to act as a monitor. This has the advantage that it is located where drivers are most familiar with looking when backing up. This monitor has a smaller screen and is less detailed than the larger one.
- While some early systems and a few models aftermarket used monochrome monitors and cameras, almost all modern systems now have color displays. Automakers refer to some of the new models as high-resolution models, which provide a high-definition display. However, it may not be as crisp as a flat-screen TV. According to these brands, vehicles such as the BMW 7 Series and the Cadillac CT6 now have night-vision capability.
Backup Cameras Aren’t Perfect
- While backup cameras have many benefits and can improve safety and convenience, some problems can hinder their operation. You can efficiently prepare for and manage your rear monitoring system by knowing what to expect.
- Poor image quality is the biggest problem owners have. The most likely reason is a dirty lens. Many cameras are mounted low to the back of cars, so they can easily get obscured by dirt, mud, and snow. To avoid scratching the lens, it is possible to clean the lens with a soft cloth.
- There could be interference with or problems pairing wireless systems, which are most commonly found on aftermarket models. While interference is rare, it could occur if other wireless devices are used while the camera operates. To allow the monitor and camera to communicate in a wireless network, they must be “paired”. If you bought the monitor and camera separately, incompatibility could be a problem.
- A defect in the camera, monitor, or any other system part could also cause poor quality or a lack thereof. Many things could cause this problem, so a skilled technician should be able to diagnose it and fix it.
- Reverse cameras don’t guarantee safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that rearview cameras aren’t a substitute for mirrors or turning your head around to see. Instead, they provide an additional safety tool for uncovering hidden dangers.
- While information is still being collected, NHTSA used data from 2008 to 2011. It found that although the number of vehicles equipped with backup cameras increased by more than twice, the number and severity of injuries decreased by less than 8 percent. However, these types of accidents saw a drop in fatalities by over 30%. However, it should be noted that the NHTSA investigation was conducted several years ago and used a small sample. We’ll continue to learn more about backup camera systems’ effectiveness as we have newer information.
- Backup cameras can only be effective if used. The University of Massachusetts conducted a study that found that only 20% of drivers looked at their rearview monitors while backing up. The study found that 46 percent failed to look at the monitor when it sounded. This indicates that the vehicle is getting closer to an object. Most modern rearview systems have alarms. Your next vehicle may remind you to watch your monitor.
Add an aftermarket backup camera.
- It’s easy to add a backup camera to your car if it doesn’t already have one. For vehicles with existing in-dash displays, retailers such as Amazon and Crutchfield offer aftermarket systems starting from $10. A complete setup with a transmitter, camera, and production costs less than $100 up to $500.
- Some aftermarket systems allow you to mount the camera inside a license plate frame. It is easy to install, and you only need a screwdriver. Some cameras mount in bumper covers or rear trim pieces, so drilling holes might be necessary. Some systems have multiple cameras, which can complicate the installation.
- A monitor is another issue. Some cameras will send the image directly from an existing screen. If your car doesn’t have a monitor, it’s possible to purchase a system that does. Many options are available, including dash- or console-mounted monitors and rearview mirrors with built-in monitors. Wireless backup cameras are standard on all new products, so you don’t need to worry about putting cables through your car’s interior. Many aftermarket suppliers have videos that show how to install their products. Many auto parts shops will do the installation for you if DIY is for someone else.
Future Camera Technology
- The future is here in many ways. Many automakers offer a 360-degree camera system, also known as a bird’s eye view system. This system uses images from four external cameras to create an overhead shot that is very helpful when maneuvering tight spaces. This technology is usually available as an option or as part of a technology bundle.
- Many concept cars have featured side view cameras, including some that eliminated mirrors over the years. However, the 2019 Lexus ES350 sedan is the first vehicle to offer this feature. According to Lexus, the advantages include improved forward visibility because the cameras are smaller and less noisy than mirrors, better side and back visibility, and fewer blind spots. This technology is currently only available in Japan, with side view cameras.
- Mitsubishi Electric is currently testing the industry’s most efficient automotive camera. This, combined with its proprietary artificial intelligence (AI), allows it to distinguish objects up to 100 meters away. The system mimics human visual behavior by focusing rapidly on things to indicate if the driver is “seeing” another vehicle, pedestrian or object.
- Cameras will also be an integral part of autonomous vehicle design. Semi-automated systems on most cars require drivers to be alert. Some are installing in-cabin sensors and cameras to ensure that someone is paying attention. The Super cruise technology by Cadillac uses an infrared camera that monitors the driver’s eyes and head movements. Super Cruise will alert the driver if the driver’s attention drifts from the road. If that fails, Super Cruise will gently stop the car. BMW will use similar technology on the 2019 BMW X5 SUV. BMW’s system employs an optical camera to monitor driver attention. It is combined with other tech features that allow for hands-free or pedal-free operation in certain conditions.
- Cameras will become more sophisticated as autonomous vehicles develop. They will be able to combine sensors and computer modules with cameras to create advanced active systems. These cameras will assist cars in finding their way, staying oriented with lanes, keeping distance from other vehicles and obstacles, reading road signs, avoiding accidents and tie-ups, and adjusting the car’s controls to the weather and traffic conditions. These functions are available in adaptive cruise control, adaptive headlights, and lane-keeping systems. However, autonomous vehicles will combine these technologies to create a fully self-driving car.