July 10, 2009
Vehicle Blind Spots and Backovers: A Deadly Combination for Children
By Gary Gustafson, MGHS Paramedic, RN
When the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Act was passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Bush in February 2008, it was no doubt a bittersweet, emotional day for the Gulbransen family of Oyster Bay, New York. Six years previously, their precious 2-year old son, Cameron, of whom the bill is named, died from injuries after being backed over by a vehicle in the family driveway. In that split second, lives were changed forever. But for little Cameron, it was a tragic end to a life that had barely even started.
Tragically, this scenario is not an isolated one. Statistics from around the country highlight that these “backovers,” as they are called, are actually on the rise. Between the years 2002-2006, 474 children were killed in similar backovers, compared to 128 from 1997-2001. As is the case in most of these, the driver of the vehicle was a loving member of the victim’s family.
Children using the driveway as a play area can have catastrophic results. Relying solely on the vehicle mirrors, without making an actual walk around visual check before backing up, could easily have deadly results for this child.
How can such tragedies occur right in the family driveway, even on a clear, sunny day? The problem starts with the blind spots that are inherent with every vehicle, and is then only compounded by a host of other issues, many of which can be eliminated with education, awareness, and extra precautions. Most of us are aware of the blind spot when we are driving down the freeway and prepare to switch lanes. That is, or should be, made clear to us when we take drivers education. What aren’t so clear however, are the other blind spots that a driver has when sitting at the wheel, including behind them and in front of them. Using both side and rearview mirrors will not provide the driver the information so vital to determine if a child is directly behind, or in some cases, directly in front of them. These blind spots can range anywhere from 12 feet to greater than 50 feet, depending on the vehicle, the size of the driver, and if the driveway is on a slope. Adding even more distractions are the radio, cell phones, IPOD’s, thinking about what your suppose to get at the store, or if you will make it to work on time.
One of the frequent scenarios identified in these tragedies is this; a parent or family member leaves the house, gets in the car, and then remembers something they forgot. Meanwhile, the child goes outside to say goodbye or just to be curious, and gets behind the vehicle. The driver then gets in the car, looks in the side and rearview mirrors, and seeing nothing backs up. Usually by then, it’s already too late.
Roxanne Woods, registered nurse and coordinator of the Trauma Prevention and Outreach Program at the University of California’s Davis Children’s Hospital, and principal investigator for the UC Davis Nontraffic Injuries to Children Study, offers the following advice to help prevent these needless tragedies:
- Walk around a vehicle before getting in to make sure that children are not near
- Make sure children are supervised
- If children are playing outside, put them in the car with you until you are finished moving your vehicle
- Teach children not to play near, or in, vehicles
- Adjust the driver’s sear as high as needed to clearly see through the rear window and adjust all mirrors for maximum range of visibility
- Roll windows down so you can hear children
Additional safety tips include:
- Avoid making your driveway a playground. If children are permitted in the area of the driveway, do so only when vehicles are not present. Consider separating the driveway and road with a physical barrier to prevent cars from entering
- To prevent children from putting a vehicle in gear, never leave vehicles running, and keep all vehicles, even those in the driveway and garage, locked up
- When backing up, always have children in full view and well away from the vehicle
- Remember that larger vehicles, like SUV’s, have larger blind spot areas. Take extra care when backing up or pulling forward.
- Take a walk around, and behind the vehicle, before ever moving it
Keep the vehicle’s radio turned off, put the cell phone away, and listen carefully as you back up slowly.
Other precautions can include the installation of a small camera so the driver can view directly behind the vehicle, or installing a sensor device that provides an audible alert if something, or someone, is behind the vehicle. Please keep in mind that although these modern technologies can help you back up more safely, one should not depend on them completely. Doing the walk around, knowing where children are at all times, keeping children in your visual view, and taking your time are all things you can do to assure safety each and every time you put a vehicle in gear.
(The Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Act directs the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to enact changes in the areas of power window anti-strangulation mechanisms, backover warning systems, brake shift interlocks, a death/injury database, and a Child Safety Information System).