Slow Cars, Fast Kids
If there's a toddler around, beware of backing up.

In April 2003, the Australian Transport Safety Board (ATSB) released a study on young children who died as a result of low-speed motor vehicle impacts. Tragically, these incidents mostly occurred at the child's home and involved a driver who was a family member or friend.

The fatalities averaged 12 annually throughout Australia during the study period, with some year-to-year variation. There were 17 deaths in 1996, ten in 1997 and nine in 1998.

Most of the victims were young toddlers - old enough to move quickly, but too small for the driver to see easily when they were close to the vehicle. Most of the vehicles were large 4WD passenger vehicles, large utility vehicles, delivery vans or heavy trucks. Most often, the child had followed an adult out of the house without being seen.

As a result of its study, the ATSB has launched a safety campaign to give the public a few simple safety precautions that could prevent a tragedy:

  • Always supervise children whenever a vehicle is to be moved. Hold their hands or hold them close to keep them safe.
  • If you're the only adult at home and need to move a vehicle, even only a small distance, place children securely in the vehicle while you move it.
  • Treat the driveway as a small road. Discourage children from using it as a play area.
  • Make access to the driveway from the house difficult for a child. Consider using security doors, fencing or gates.

North American Perspective

Kids and Cars, an American non-profit organization that collects statistics on backover incidents from public records, says that in 2002 at least 58 children died in the US as a result of being backed over by a motor vehicle. According to Kids and Cars, over 80 per cent of the victims are under four years of age, and a parent or close relative is behind the wheel in about 60 per cent of the cases.

There are no official Canadian statistics on low-impact vehicle collisions that do not occur in traffic. However, the Canadian Hospitals Injury Reporting and Prevention Program (CHIRPP) of Health Canada helps quantify the issue. CHIRPP tracks visits to emergency departments at 10 children's hospitals and five general hospitals across the country.

The CHIRPP database recorded 237 injuries in driveways from 1990 to 1998. Of these, close to half (110) were age four and younger. In more than half (125) of the total cases, the injured child was standing beside or behind the vehicle and the driver drove over the child. The highest number of driveway injuries were seen during the summer (39 per cent), with spring a close second (31 per cent).

Another CHIRPP report, based on 1996-98 data, found that one-quarter of those injured by vehicles backing up (28 out of 107) were aged two to four years. However, 62 per cent of the hospital admissions were under age five, indicating that more younger children suffered serious injuries.

The situation in North America seems to be similar to that in Australia, and the same precautions are in order.

Solutions for the Blind Spot

Some new vehicles offer sensors that detect unseen obstacles behind the vehicle. For example, the General Motors Ultrasonic Parking Assist System senses objects behind the vehicle as it reverses. The system sounds a warning tone and illuminates a lamp that is colour coded for proximity above the rear window, which is visible in the rear view mirror, as you move close to the object. GM says the system may detect a stationary or moving child, but potentially not in every case. This type of device is only an aid - not a replacement for driver vigilance. Manufacturers are working on rear-facing radar systems which would sense moving objects but these are not yet on the market.

If you have a larger vehicle, the Canada Safety Council suggests adding devices such as extra mirrors to reduce the size of your blind spot. Another way to minimize the backing hazard is to back into your driveway so you go forward to drive out. And always back up slowly - never faster than a child's walking pace.


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