Road safety starts well before you even get the car out onto the road. Why? Well, it might not look it, but the driveway at home can be a very dangerous place. A place where great care is needed if the safety of children is a priority.
According to Kidsafe, the domestic driveway is the next most common cause of childhood traumatic death after swimming pool at home. The Medical Journal of Australia lists driveway injuries as the place where 12 per cent of child pedestrians are injured and where eight per cent of all child motor vehicle death occurs.
Speed, fatigue, alcohol and seatbelts get all the publicity when it comes to road safety. The driveway is often swept under the rug. And yet driveway death/trauma is potentially very easy to cure – in the way that fatigue, for example, or intentional risk-taking, are not.
Driveway tragedies are invariably the result of negligent reversing. Not intentional negligence, but still negligence.
The driver most commonly responsible for causing the injury is the child’s parent. It’s difficult to see how any decent parent could ever get over that.
It’s not just personal negligence at play here. Public awareness of the problem is very low, despite one child a week, on average, getting cleaned up in a driveway. Australia’s road safety regulators are strangely silent on this topic. This is all the NSW RTA’s has to say on the issue of reversing, in its Road User Handbook: “Pedestrians, particularly children, are at greater risk when drivers are reversing. Take care when reversing and never reverse further than necessary.”
This statement is basically the only official comment on safe reversing in 132 pages, from the agency tasked (and paid for by taxpayer funds) to promote and manage road safety. It hardly equips any driver with the tools required to avoid injuring or killing a child in the driveway at home.
Sadly, many parents are made aware of the problem only after a child has been injured – too late for awareness to be of any practical value.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on road safety, and nationally the annual revenue from speeding fines alone is close to $2 billion. Some of that money could be used to help solve this problem by increasing parental awareness.
Here’s an obvious question: Is the lack of such a public awareness campaign simply because driveway injuries don’t officially qualify as road trauma and therefore don’t fall under road safety agencies’ purviews?
Would reversing cameras solve the problem? Probably not. They might help a little bit. With around 15 million vehicles in Australia, multiplied by (say) $300 per vehicle for a reversing camera installation we’d be looking at a $4.2-billion-dollar national undertaking – one that’s not about to happen any time soon. In any case, in the absence of parental awareness and vigilance the problem would largely persist. It will be a long time before reversing cameras are mandated even in all new cars.
If you accept that technology alone is not the answer, reducing driveway trauma isn’t a particularly hard problem to solve.
However, it does require some effort every time you use the driveway. If you accept that we can’t (or won’t) design homes without driveways, kids or cars to eliminate the hazard altogether, you could implement a safer process, like backing into the driveway instead of backing out.
In many driveways, this would be safer simply because people are usually in a rush to leave home as opposed to returning, and leaving in a forward direction is safer by a considerable margin – particularly if you’re in a rush.
Alternatively you could – and should – walk right around the car before you back out. This will add 11 metres to your ‘commute’, but it will confirm your kids aren’t playing just near the bumper, where you probably would never see them in the rear-vision mirror. It would be even safer to confirm the location of the children, and even better to have another adult ensure they are safe while you move the car. If that can’t be done, maybe you need to put the kids in the car when you reverse it.
Another option is to reverse the car with the windows down and the radio shut off. This will allow you to hear a warning cry, in a worst-case scenario.
Yet another option is to reverse the car slowly, which will allow you to stop quickly in the event of a problem.
Educating the kids from an early age that the driveway’s not a good place to play, and that kids in the driveway need to get out of the way of cars would certainly help, too.
Obviously it’s not just a matter of implementing just one of these practices and walking away mentally. Multi-layered protective approaches usually work best – so what you need to do is think about how you can employ as many of these safer ways to use the car in the driveway as possible.