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Local Woman Won’t Give Up Fight to Save Lives

Despite years of delay from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Manhasset resident Sue Auriemma refuses to give up her fight to ensure that all U.S. manufactured vehicles are built with and equipped with rearview cameras so that children are no longer at risk for being backed over.

“I never imagined that my child and I would ever experience the trauma of a backover accident,” said Auriemma. “Now I know firsthand how easily it can happen; my mission ever since has been to ensure it won’t happen to someone else.” Auriemma explained how important the camera safety feature is. “It’s impossible (given the height factor of SUVs) to see through metal and know what’s directly behind the bumper.”

It all began after her own near tragedy in 2005. As she was pulling out of her driveway, her 3-year-old-daughter Kate darted out of the front door and behind her vehicle because she wanted to go with her mom. The screams Auriemma heard while in reverse were assumed to be neighborhood kids at play, but in reality they were those of her daughter’s cries. And so began, this nearing 9-year battle to protect children from being backed over and injured as Kate was, or worse…being killed.

Today, Kate—now almost 12—thankfully sustained only cuts, scrapes, and bruises after having undergone hours of testing in the ER that dreadful day. But, the Auriemma family was one of the lucky ones. What about the hundreds of incidents that occur annually for families who won’t get that second chance?

Today there are a reported 292 annual deaths, according to the U.S. DOT that occur from backover incidents that could potentially be avoided with the placement of rearview cameras.

Most recently, Auriemma along with Oyster Bay pediatrician Dr. Greg Gulbransen, and with the organization www.KidsAndCars.org and two other advocacy groups, a lawsuit has been filed against the U.S. Department of Transportation. Dr. Gulbransen, now a friend and fellow advocate of Auriemma’s, endured a far worse incident when he backed over his 2-year-old son in his driveway in 2002. The website www.KidsAndCars.org gives testimonials and other important data on this troubling issue.  

Auriemma has spent several years, along with dozens of other families who suffered far worse, making trips to Washington, D.C. speaking about the stories and urging members of Congress to make a difference. “We have been very successful in the plea to get our message across,” said Auriemma. “But now, after four separate delays in issuing a regulation, the process is at a standstill.” The bill was signed and passed in 2008, clearly stating that the DOT establish a standard for what driver’s need to be able to see behind their vehicle, also known as the “rearward visibility standard.” The latest delay puts the deadline at January 2, 2015, almost seven years past the signing of the bill.

Auriemma and others won’t stand for it and are beyond frustrated with the process.  “The DOT has been studying this for years; expert technicians in the field have studies radar, bumper sensors, convex mirrors, and other camera technologies,” confirmed Auriemma. “The rearview mirrors that we all use don’t cover enough ground of what driver’s need to be able to see. You can have a blind zone behind your car that is 60 feet long,” she added. “That is the area that a small toddler can be behind you and not visible.”

According to www.Edmunds.com, 40% of cars are being manufactured with the rearview camera standard now, and “Honda has outfitted their entire fleet of cars with cameras,” she reported. “It’s a selling feature and people want it, but higher-end car companies such as BMW are offering the rearview camera, but only as part of their navigation feature – priced as high as $3500 for the package.”

Auriemma and her partners feel that where the bill is stuck is in the executive branch, the last stop it has to make is in the Office of Management and Budget. It comes down to the “cost benefit analysis”—it’s about how many lives they can save and what that is worth. A recent letter from the Secretary of Transportation claimed that the department still needs more data – making this the 4th and longest delay since 2008. The process is taking way too long for advocates like Auriemma who hopes this lawsuit will speed up the process. The suit calls for DOT to issue the regulation within 90 days of a judgement.

“Every year that they delay the rule, more and more people are dying,” said Auriemma “The DOT can fix this problem and are dragging their heels, probably due to the tremendous amount of pressure from the auto industry who doesn’t want to pay,” she believes.  

The lawsuit filed does not seek damages or monetary rewards, but instead the backing of the courts who can inevitably force the DOT to make the necessary measures to assure that every car produced in the United States has a rearview mirror in place.

Some Statistics From the U.S. Department of Transportation

*In 70% of backover cases, it’s either a parent, grandparent or family member who accidently injures a child.

*It is reported that approximately 292 deaths occur each year from backover accidents

*There are an estimated 18,000 injuries per year due to backover accidents.

In the meantime, Auriemma is active in public speaking at child safety forums, conferences, safety fairs, both in and out of New York. She is steadfast about  getting her word out and hopes to see the day soon when this regulation is issued. Auriemma has already appeared on news segments from ABC News with Diane Sawyer, Fox News, and Good Morning America. Why has she come forward now to her local newspaper? “I was afraid of being judged and was reluctant at first to come forward,” she said.  “But something like this can happen to anybody, and if telling my story saves even one child’s life then I’ll know I have made a difference.”