Blind-sided by Jeep Commander’s industry-worst blind-spot ranking from Consumer Reports, Chrysler Group confirms the ’07 SUV will feature a rear-view back-up camera as optional equipment.

In this year’s Consumer Reports investigation of vehicle blind spots, the ’06 Commander ranked last with a sightless zone that ranged from 44 ft. (13.4 m) to 69 ft. (21.0), depending on the height of the driver.

“The Commander’s blind zone is considerably larger than that for other midsize and large sport/utility vehicles,” Consumer Reports says. But the watchdog publication notes Commander’s optional back-up camera “can significantly reduce or eliminate the blind zone.”

To conduct its testing, Consumer Reports places a 28-in. (71-cm) traffic cone behind a vehicle at the point where the driver can just see the top. This cone simulates the height of a small child.

In its SUV tests, third-row seats were deployed in the upright position – something Jeep recommends against if they are not required to accommodate occupants.

“We believe back-up technologies, such as rearview cameras, are essential and should be a requirement by federal law,” says Sally Greenberg, senior product safety counsel for Consumers Union in Washington. “Their cost is small compared to the cost of a child’s life. And once this technology becomes standard equipment in vehicles, systems will become more economical for manufacturers to produce.”

Greenberg urges Congress to pass the Cameron Gulbransen Kids and Cars Safety Act of 2005. It would require a rearward visibility standard that “will provide drivers with a means of detecting a child behind the vehicle,” she says.

Kids and Cars, a safety group, estimates more than 100 fatalities in recent years have been linked to motorists who did not see children behind their vehicles. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly 7,500 children were treated in hospitals for injuries acquired the same way.

A Chrysler spokeswoman defends the current Commander, saying it “offers the most standard safety and security features of any Chrysler Group vehicle today.” This includes ParkSense, a driver-assist feature that emits an audible warning signal when an object is detected behind the vehicle. ParkSense is standard equipment.

And for ’07, the spokeswoman confirms, the Commander adds ParkView, a rear-view camera system that affords a wide-angle look at the area behind the vehicle. The optional feature also will be available on the ’07 Chrysler Pacifica cross/utility vehicle.

Related document: Factory-Installed Equipment on '06-model U.S. Domestic Car and Light Trucks

This is consistent with a trend reflected in Ward’s data. More than 970,000 domestic ’06-model light trucks produced through March – 15% of total ’06 production so far – were equipped with rear-object sensors, up from 818,000 (9.1%) for all of ’04. % Factory-Installed Equipment on ’06-model U.S. Domestic Car and Light Trucks subscribers.wardsauto.com/refcenter/northamerica/us/yearly/equipment/FI06Mid.xls

The only ’06 vehicles on which some form of back-up assist technology was standard equipment includes the Lincoln Mark LT pickup, Cadillac EXT sport/utility truck, Mercury Monterey minivan and four SUV nameplates: Commander, Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX56 and Nissan Armada.

Ford Motor Co. products accounted for nearly half the ’06 models equipped with rear-object sensors, according to Ward’s. From the Escape Hybrid CUV to Super Duty pickups, Ford installed the technology on more than 429,000 units.

“The danger of vehicle blind zones correlates with the use of large SUVs, minivans and pickups trucks as common family vehicles,” says Don Mays, Consumer Reports senior director-product safety and consumer science. “Consumers must be cognizant of this danger – and the value of rearview cameras – when going out to purchase a new vehicle.”

Adds Greenberg: “Without these devices, parents and families will continue to suffer the terrible tragedy of accidentally backing over a child.”

emayne@wardsauto.com