Tech Savvy: Your rear is clear: Rear-facing backup cameras on automobiles
When I first got my driver's license, I loathed parallel parking.
The anxiety of whether my car would hit the car behind me prompted me to walk for blocks after finding a spot where I could simply pull in without trying it.
Fast forward to adulthood and picking out the first car bought with my own money. I like to think I selected the car I did because it can take E85 Earth-friendly ethanol gasoline, but if I'm not kidding myself, it was mostly because it has a rear backup camera.
I can now back up with ease, with a real-time image of what's behind me that comes up on my dashboard display. A yellow grid is superimposed over the camera image to show where my reverse path will be, and when I turn the wheels while backing up, the "dynamic gridlines" shift accordingly.
The camera is so inconspicuously mounted that it took me several days after buying the car to to notice where it was. It's still easy to see through the camera at night, with both license plate lights and brake lights providing plenty of illumination for the camera to pick up. The only disadvantage with the camera itself is the small lens occasionally needs to be wiped off after heavy rain or driving through mud or dust.
According to tech website Digital Trends, the federal government wants to make rear cameras legally required in cars. However, as is common with rules catching up to technology, the process has been delayed.
Most people are not imminently searching the market for a new car, so we're left with getting an aftermarket rear backup camera installed.
The camera itself appears to be the cheap part. But the camera is useless without a computer and display, and those will cost the most money. Some come with a conventional monitor, while others will be projected through a monitor that doubles as a regular rearview mirror and is mounted in the same place.
On Amazon, rear backup camera kits range from about $30 for the cheaper ones to $800 for the higher end of the spectrum designed for a specific make of car. Cheaper ones also seem easier to install yourself.
As with most new technologies, the rear backup camera helps eliminate the potential for human error in some aspects, while introducing the potential for screwups in others. One potential pitfall that I stay on guard against is relying too much on the system. When you're pulling out of a parking space, for example, the camera only picks up what is directly behind you, with some peripheral vision. It does not pick up cars traveling perpendicular to yours in either direction—so relying solely on the camera increases the risk of being T-boned.
While preoccupied with the backup camera, one also runs the risk of side-swiping the cars in the adjacent parking spaces. However, this technically is also a consideration when backing up normally without a camera, so I'm not going to count it against the new technology.
The benefits far outweigh the downsides. The main advantage of the rear backup camera is when it eliminates the blind spot your rear view mirror does not cover—the space below the rear window of the car. Is there a shopping cart back there? Runaway toddler? Pothole so large it leads to China? Now you can rest assured your reverse path is clear.