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Reversing cameras. Which new cars do it best?

Modern reversing cameras have truly high-res displays and parking guidance lines that guide you into a spot. (Ford Ranger Wildtrak pictured)

Reversing cameras are like mobile phones - only with smaller brains and lower-resolution screens - because these days it's hard to imagine how we ever survived, or at least didn't kill other people, without them.

Some excitable websites go so far as describing the area immediately behind and below a reversing vehicle as "a killing zone", which might seem a little dramatic, but in a world in which so many of us drive huge, hulking SUVs, that rear blind spot has only become larger and thus more dangerous.

In the US, "backover" accidents, as they call them, cause almost 300 deaths and more than 18,000 injuries a year, and 44 per cent of those deaths are children under the age of five. 

Reacting to those awful figures, in May 2018 a national law was enacted in American making it compulsory for every new car sold to feature a reversing camera.

That's not the case yet in Australia, although road-safety experts have been calling for similar legislation to see all cars sold with reverse camera, including the managing director of Driver Safety Australia, Russell White.

"It's important that new safety systems are introduced to support the driver, reduce the human-factor risks and help reduce road trauma overall," Mr White said.

"Tragically, a child is run over in their own driveway on almost a weekly basis in this country. So it's highly desirable to have systems that help reduce these blind spots and alert drivers to potential risks,

"While many vehicles are now being fitted with reversing cameras and sensors it's important not to become too over-reliant on them... as a driver it's important that you remain vigilant and totally aware of your surroundings when reversing any vehicle."

There is, as driving instructors will often tell you, no substitute for actually turning your head and looking.

Reversing cameras were first introduced to the mass market almost 20 years ago, in an Infiniti Q45, sold in the US, and the Nissan Primera took the idea global in 2002. It wasn't until 2005 that the Ford Territory became the first car built in Australia to offer one.

Early efforts were so blurry they seemed to have a combination of Vaseline and mud smeared on the lens - and reverse cameras tend to look weird anyway because their output is flipped so that they look like a mirror image (this is easier for our brains, because otherwise your left would be on your right when reversing, etc).

Fortunately, modern reversing cameras have truly high-res displays (BMW's 7 Series even allows you to adjust the quality of the picture), and parking guidance lines that guide you into a spot, and even night vision.

And while certainly we're not at the compulsory fitment stage yet, there are a huge number of cars with parking cameras.

The best reversing cameras in the business

The best cars with reversing cameras generally all share one asset - a properly large screen. Using one of those tiny, weird-looking squares tucked into the rear-vision mirror as your reverse camera might theoretically work, but it's not convenient, or easy to use.

One of the best reverse cameras is currently to be found doing its work in the luscious cabin of the Audi Q8, via a high-resolution 12.3-inch display. 

Not only does the screen look lush and precise, with parking lines, and the "God view" that seems to show you the enormous car from above, relative to things like gutters, it also has an incredible 360-degree feature that allows you to grab a graphic representation of your car on the screen and spin it around in any direction, allowing you to check your clearances.

All Audis have pretty fantastic reversing cameras and screens, to be fair, but the Q8 is next level. 

An even bigger and more impressive screen is to be found on the Tesla Model 3 (or any Tesla, really, Musk does love a huge touch screen). Its 15.4-inch iPad cum coffee table screen provides a big, wide view of what's behind you, and, as a bonus, tells you exactly how many centimetres (or inches) you are from the car behind as you reverse towards it. Handy.

At a slightly more affordable level than a Q8, one Germanic relation that also offers a properly huge screen is the Volkswagen Touareg, where an (optional) 15-inch display seems to take up much of the middle of the car. Again, its reversing camera provides a big, wide view of the world behind you.

The Range Rover Evoque is one car using a slightly new approach to reversing cameras, with what it calls a ClearSight rear-view mirror, which uses a camera and a mirror-integrated display. While it looks very clever, early reports are that it can be a bit buggy, and weird to use.

With so many cars and so many options, we decided to poll the professionals who drive hundreds of different machines every year - the CarsGuide team - for their votes on who makes the very best reversing cameras. The names that leapt to everyone's minds were the Mazda 3, which really does have a posh new screen in its latest model, and a clear camera picture, the Ford Ranger - best of the utes by far - and Mercedes-Benz; all of them.

Special mention must also go to BMW, not only for its screens and cameras but its unique and ingenious Reversing Assistant, which can remember the last 50m you've travelled and reverse for you, hands free. If you have a long, tricky driveway, this (optional) system would be an absolute Godsend. As are reversing cameras in general.

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