Rearview Video System: "Does It Work?"

More than 17 kids were killed in the first four months of this year — backed over by drivers who could not see them. In East Texas we've had two of these tragedies, that we know of. More and more people are becoming aware of the danger posed by blind spots in cars. Now there are cameras and sensors you can get to help address this problem. In the first tests of its kind, Consumer Reports evaluated several of these devices to see if they can prevent a tragic accident. That's the subject of this week's "Does It Work?" report.

Cameron Gulbransen celebrated his second birthday party. Tragically, Cameron would never reach his third birthday. As his father backed into the driveway one night last fall, he had no idea Cameron had gotten out of the house. "I was looking, rearview mirrors and over my shoulder and I never saw him and he was probably calling my name and I just drove right over him," says Greg. Dr. Gulbransen believes his son's death could have been prevented, and has advice for other parents. "Get some sort of a device that's gonna make your car safer because there are many other Cameron Gulbransens out there and it can be avoided. It's simple."

Consumer Reports David Champion just tested the back-up devices Greg's talking about to see if they could help avoid a tragic accident. Testers assessed two kinds of back-up aids — rearview cameras and sensors. "The sensors put a beam out the back and then inside the car you'll hear a beeping noise and the closer you get to something the faster the beep will go," says David. Sensors are marketed as parking aids, and testers found they work well in that capacity. But Consumer Reports says don't count on a sensor as a safety device. "It will only pick up larger items like a pole or another vehicle behind you. It won't pick up things like a soccer ball or a basketball, or a small bicycle behind you," says David. Far better in terms of safety are rearview cameras. "If I'm sitting in this car now I look over my shoulder, I can't see anything at all. But on the screen I can see there's a young boy sitting on a basketball." The Acura MDX has a factory-equipped camera. When you put the vehicle in reverse, the camera automatically shows you what's behind the vehicle. Consumer Reports found this type of system works the best, offering nice-sized screens and clear images.

Testers also assessed after-market systems that have to be professionally installed. Testers found that, though the screens are a bit smaller, they work almost as well. "This is an after-market rearview camera. It has a camera mounted on the rear of the vehicle, gives you a small display here so you can see exactly what's behind you." Greg thinks a device like this would have saved his son Cameron's life. "Had I known that there were cameras available, I would have seen him and I would have had, he would still be here." Greg has installed a camera system in his SUV — and encourages everyone with a large vehicle to do the same.

Two after-market rearview camera systems were tested by Consumer Reports. The HitchCAM costs $900, and you need a tow hitch to mount it. The Donnelly Video Mirror costs $400, and can be mounted on any vehicle. Total Truck Accessories in Tyler sells a system from Audiovox that hides the monitor inside a specially designed rearview mirror, complete with sound. The rear mounted camera includes a microphone. It costs $800 installed.