Lexus LX 570 rear camera (© Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.)Click to enlarge picture

Lexus LX 570 rear camera

All vehicles have a rear blind zone. It's defined as the area right behind your back bumper. And you can't see what's there.

Reversing into unseen pedestrians has lead to many injuries and deaths for both children and the elderly.

As a result, NHTSA is establishing regulations that require better rear field-of-view for new vehicles. (Read: "Rearward-visibility rule proposed to protect pedestrians — especially kids — from backover tragedies.")

How much of a design problem is rear visibility? Starting in 2002, Consumer Reports has measured the blind zone directly behind the rear bumper of over 400 vehicles focused on assessing child backover dangers. The tester looks over their shoulder out the rear window and reverses the vehicle until they can no longer see the top of a 28-inch traffic cone. Here are the best and worst vehicles we've tested, along with the blind zone measurement (in feet) for a 5'1" driver and a 5'8" driver.

Best VehiclesYearBlind Zone Distance, 5'8" driverBlind Zone Distance, 5'1" driver
Saturn Sky Redline200735
Mazda MX-5 Miata PRHT201035
Mazda MX-5 Miata200636
smart fortwo200847
Volvo C30200848
Pontiac Solstice2006410
Chevrolet Aveo LS2004510
Mazda3 S Grand Touring2006610
Toyota Prius2008610
Toyota Yaris (5-door hatch)2007610
Toyota Yaris (3-door hatch)2009610
Jeep Wrangler Sport Limited2005511
Mercedes-Benz SL5502007511
Worst VehiclesYearBlind Zone Distance, 5'8" driverBlind Zone Distance, 5'1" driver
Jeep Commander20064469
Chevrolet Avalanche LT20073150
Chevrolet Avalanche20022931
Hummer H220083047
Ford F-150 XLT20043445
Hummer H320063145
Ford F-150 XLT20093145
Saturn Outlook XR20072646
Toyota Tundra SR520042944
Suzuki Aerio GS20032349
Suzuki XL720072546
Chevrolet Silverado 250020073140

The differences between the best and worst vehicles are startling. Some conclusions:

  • Small roadsters and hatchbacks typically have the shortest blind zone.
  • As a class, pickup trucks (our tested trucks are all crew-cab models) have the longest blind zone.
  • Styling plays a role. The Hummers, Saturn Outlook, and Suzuki XL7 (all now off the market) had high rear window ledges, lengthening the blind zone.
  • The horrible showing for the three-row Jeep Commander shows that if you aren't using a third-row seat, fold it down to improve visibility. (We test with all seating rows raised.)

NHTSA predicts that most car companies will comply with the new rear field-of-view standards by making rear-view cameras standard. Cameras reveal what is immediately behind a reversing vehicle, as well as making it easier to park or hitch a trailer. They are already common on new luxury vehicles and many typically-optioned midsized or larger SUVs. Like the graduated implementation of electronic stability control, this lawmaking has the benefit of driving the addition of this desirable safety device to lower-priced vehicles.

While rear-view cameras may be increasingly available, that doesn't mean they're always easy to find. As a class, pickup trucks have the largest rear blind zones, often exceeding 40 feet. They could most benefit from a camera. While all 1/2-ton trucks now offer cameras, our shopping for Consumer Reports test vehicles has shown that so-equipped trucks can be hard to find on a dealer's lot. Compared to other vehicles, pickups have a wide plethora of options, so a dealer has to choose to order trucks with a camera.

Rear-view cameras are most commonly found on vehicles with large dashboard screens, often as part of a built-in navigation system. This link between big dashboard screens and rear-view cameras is what restricted the cameras mostly to more expensive vehicles, or forced buyers to pay over $1,500 to get a factory navigation system in order to get a camera. As more and more vehicles follow the industry trend of having standard in-dash screen displays — with or without nav — backup cameras have become more readily available. Vehicles that highlight this trend are several Nissan models (Maxima Murano, all Infinitis) and new Ford vehicles with MyFord Touch dashboard technology.

Another development that has made cameras more common is the use of rear-view mirror displays for the camera image. This gets around needing a big dashboard screen. These displays are certainly better than nothing as they will show if something is behind the vehicle. However, they can be small and hard to read.