NHTSA ponders permitting cameras in place of mirrors

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The Federal Register has published a notice and request for comment from the United States’ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on the potential use of cameras and video screens to replace conventional glass side and rear view mirrors. That wind-cheating technology is already in use in Europe and Japan.

More than five years ago, in 2014, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers trade association, which includes major automakers like General Motors, Toyota, and the Volkswagen Group, joined by Tesla, petitioned NHTSA to revise the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards to permit the use of camera-based systems to replace side mirrors in passenger cars and light trucks. A year later, Daimler filed a similar petition regarding heavy trucks.

While those petitions are still pending, NHTSA’s notice is a first step to achieving their ends. The notice reads, “The proposed collection of information supports research addressing safety-related aspects of drivers’ use of camera-based rear visibility systems intended to serve as a replacement for traditional outside rearview mirrors.”

The notice lays out the basic testing procedures and goals. Initial testing would focus on passenger vehicles, to be followed by testing of the camera systems on heavy trucks.

In addition to testing the technology, NHTSA will be observing how it affects drivers and driving.

“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,” according to the notice.

Automakers are chasing after every improvement they can make in terms of fuel mileage and EV range, with particular attention paid to aerodynamics. Even if they can look pretty cool, side mirrors create quite a bit of aero drag and wind noise.

The current Lexus ES and Audi e-tron come with cameras instead of side mirrors in their home markets, but U.S. versions must be equipped, per the current FMVSS, with conventional glass mirrors. The upcoming Europe-only battery-powered Honda e city car also uses cameras in lieu of side mirrors.

Since 2016, Cadillac has offered its Rear Camera Mirror on some models, which augments the traditional windshield-mounted rear view mirror with a video display that can be continuously streamed from a rear-mounted camera with three to four times the field of view of a conventional mirror. As the Rear Camera Mirror is integrated with a normally functioning glass mirror, it doesn’t run afoul of current federal regulations.

The agency is accepting comments through October 29, 2019. If you’d like to file a formal comment, you can do so here.

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