Almost 900 UPS delivery vehicles around the state have been equipped with backing devices using one of three different technologies — Doppler radar, ultrasonic or camera/monitor systems.
The Washington law, known as "C.J.'s law," calls for trucks of a certain size to be equipped with rear cross-view mirrors or other appropriate backing devices.
During the course of the next year, UPS will test each of the three technologies to gauge their effectiveness. Those results will be compared with the results of a national test of rear cross-view mirrors conducted by UPS in 1998. All the electronic devices have been sanctioned by the Washington State Patrol as exceeding the new law's requirements.
"The issue is safety, plain and simple," said Norman Black, a spokesman for UPS. "These electronic devices obviously are more expensive, but we believe they may be more effective than mirrors under many circumstances. So we're going to comply with the law while using Washington as a laboratory to compile basic comparative information that's simply not available elsewhere."
In announcing the use of electronic backing aids, UPS advised consumers and local police agencies alike that the absence of mirrors on delivery vehicles did not mean the company was out of compliance with the law.
In part because of last year's debate in Washington state, however, UPS began testing mirrors on 300 delivery vehicles around the country last summer. The results of that national six-month test were presented to the State Patrol in late February, after which UPS disclosed its intention to comply with the new law by using electronic devices.
UPS is spending more than $500,000 to equip its delivery fleet in Washington with the electronic devices. It would cost about $68,000 to install rear cross-view mirrors on the same fleet. UPS has installed the devices on roughly 900 delivery vehicles, including 50 larger trucks not covered by the new law.
UPS decided to use electronic devices in Washington because the earlier mirror testing produced mixed results. Three different types of mirrors were tested in five geographic sites. Drivers reported the mirrors often distorted objects and were easily knocked out of adjustment; were degraded by rain, snow, sleet, road film, vibration and shadows, and became less effective as the vehicle's length increased and at night.