Driving over a bump. That’s what it felt like to the Syosset father when he accidentally backed up his car over his 2-year-old son, killing him.
Greg Gulbransen has spent the past 15 years trying to make up for that day, advocating for backup cameras in all new vehicles. He has spoken before Congress, joined a lawsuit and recounted his heart-wrenching story time and again.
On Tuesday, a new federal rule, named for his son Cameron, went into effect, making backup cameras standard equipment in all new cars. “It’s been a long, long fight, but we’re going to save a lot of lives,” said Gulbransen, 55, a pediatrician. “I was able to take my grief and transform it into policy change.”
The rule requires all vehicles under 10,000 pounds, including buses and trucks, to come equipped with rear-visibility technology, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Car safety advocates heralded the move. “This is long overdue. The technology has been around for 10 years,” said Jason Levine, executive director for the Washington-based Center for Auto Safety.
Back-over accidents kill about 200 in the United States every year and injure another 12,000, Levine said. Many involve children struck in their own driveway, sometimes by someone who loves them dearly, he said.
“I have long said that one of the most dangerous places for a child to be is in the family driveway,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who supported the rule change. “No family should have to go through these tragedies.”
Carmakers opposed the measure from the start, Levine said, wanting to keep the technology as a luxury add-on. The auto industry lobbied Washington against the rule, thwarting progress, he said.
Bill and Adriann Nelson of Dix Hills weren’t going to let other young lives be lost. Their 16-month-old son, Alec, died in 2004 when his grandfather backed a vehicle out of the family’s driveway.
The Nelsons hold a charity run every year and have been to Washington a dozen times to push for the camera measure.
On Tuesday, their thoughts turned to Alec and what they’ve done to honor his memory. “I hope when I get to heaven and I see him again, we’ll see the whole picture of how his life has affected things down here,” Bill Nelson said.
Gulbransen hasn’t been the same since his son’s death in 2002. He and his wife had come home from dinner with friends, and after checking on his two boys in their rooms, he went outside to move the car. He didn’t know Cameron, his younger son, had come outside.
The father shifted the car into reverse and “felt a little bump.” He saw his son’s body in the headlights.
The combination punches of sorrow, guilt and shame made Gulbransen feel a way that “there are no words for in English.” But he decided he wasn’t going to drink away his loss or try to blame something else.
“I’m going to own it and turn it around,” he recalled saying to himself.
In 2008, President George W. Bush gave federal transportation officials three years to draft wording on a backup-camera mandate. Five years later, the U.S. Department of Transportation still hadn’t drafted a rule. A group that included Gulbransen sued the agency to comply with Bush’s directive. A year after the lawsuit, the NHTSA issued a 2018 deadline for backup cameras on all new autos.
In a way, Cameron has been with his father all along the way.
“This is the mission,” Gulbransen said. “This is our role and we did it.”