Not only are back-up (or rear-view) cameras a convenience many drivers have grown to love, but they’re also a safe and effective way to prevent accidents while backing up and parking — so much so that Transport Canada will require all new cars and small trucks to have back-up cameras starting in May 2018. This new regulation is designed to protect those who are most likely to be involved in back-up mishaps, including kids, people with disabilities, and the elderly.

How back-up cameras work

Back-up cameras don’t replace safe driving skills, but they give a much wider, clearer rear-view picture than you could possibly see in your mirrors alone — even performing a shoulder check doesn’t guarantee you’ll see the tiny tyke on a tricycle behind your back bumper. But back-up cameras don’t just help with backing out of parking spots and driveways; they also make it much easier to back into parking spaces or parallel park with precision in tight quarters.

Many back-up camera screens feature coloured lines that indicate the distance between your vehicle and the objects behind it. While the measurements and corresponding colours vary by manufacturer, there are usually lines of some kind that indicate the approximate width of your car, as well as the minimum “safe distance” between your car and whatever is behind it. Check your vehicle’s instruction manual or the manufacturer’s website to learn more about the features of your own back-up camera.

Stay on your toes (and keep it clean)

While back-up cameras can make backing up a breeze, they don’t always come with full sensor systems, and a camera alone won’t usually beep or sound an alert if you’re getting too close to something. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times, so don’t forget to check your side and rear-view mirrors and peek over your shoulder before carefully backing up.

Back-up camera maintenance is usually as simple as a wipe-down from time to time. But keep in mind that your view can be affected by the weather, the time of day (a glare from the sun, for example, can make in-car screens harder to read), and other environmental factors, so don’t skip your standard safety checks.

Tips for installing your own back-up camera 

If your car doesn’t have a built-in back-up camera but you want to take advantage of the enhanced safety one would provide, there are plenty of aftermarket kits available for you to install yourself. Before buying one of these kits, read the packaging carefully and consider the following facts:

  • A higher resolution screen makes for a clearer picture — and increased safety
  • Wireless units transmit their videos via Bluetooth or radio signals, so you won’t have to string wires through the inside of your vehicle
  • Some kits mount on your license plate holder and only require a screwdriver, while others may require you to drill a hole and mount the camera in your bumper

If you don’t feel like breaking out the toolbox and installing a camera yourself, look for a local electronics retailer who provides an installation service.

What about drivers with older cars?

If you’re wondering how this new regulation will impact you and your older car, remember that the law will only apply to vehicles built and sold after May 2018.

If you’re ready to take the plunge and buy a new car with more up-to-date safety features, don’t forget to talk to your insurance broker before you drive it off the lot.