Modern 4X4: now safer in the driveway

4X4s are death traps in driveways? Don't be so sure...

A recent study by the NRMA has found that many new 4X4s are among the safest vehicles to have in your driveway. The organisation’s latest round of Reversing Visibility Index (RVI) tests identified 17 popular 4X4s with either 5-star or 4.5-star reversing vision performance – all offering the driver a view of a small child as close as touching the bumper.

The NRMA’s RVI uses a laser beam and a grid measuring 1.8 metres wide by 15 metres long behind the vehicle to identify the closest locations an object the height of an average two-year-old’s shoulder becomes visible to an average-height driver.

The results are important because reversing run-overs in domestic driveways are the second most common cause of traumatic death in children, after the backyard swimming pool, according to Kidsafe. The Medical Journal of Australia cites driveway injuries as comprising 12 per cent of child pedestrian trauma and eight per cent of all child motor vehicle death.

The latest RVI results shatter the perception that all 4X4s are dangerous in driveways. While the tests found 17 4X4s offered excellent (ie at-the-bumper) child visibility, no small cars offered it. The closest child-visible distance offered among RVI’s small car sample was a staggering 3.1 metres (Nissan Micra). The diminutive Mazda2 sedan didn’t offer the driver a view of the child-height test object for more than 15 metres – about four times the vehicle’s own length.

Only one small-medium car offered bumper-close child vision (Kia Soul, provided it had a reversing camera). Only reversing camera-equipped Toyota Camry and Prius offered bumper-close child vision in the medium segment – and 16 cars in that segment didn’t allow a view of the RVI’s child-simulating test object until it was further than 10 metres from the bumper – a lot of ‘dead zone’, potentially.

There were three excellent performances among large cars: Commodore, Falcon and Aurion – provided they were models with reversing cameras. But there were six entrants in the class with no test-subject vision for a staggering 15 metres behind the bumper … including Commodore, Aurion and Falcon (sans camera models). Anything in the RVI with 15+ metres of ‘dead zone’ qualified for zero stars.

People movers were pathetic performers, surprisingly for family-focussed transportation. Apart from camera-equipped Subaru Exigas, in which the driver can see a child-sized object touching the bumper, the next closest performer was the Volkswagen Caddy (5.7 metres). The Honda Odyssey, and even the Exiga without the reversing camera, offered no view of the child-sized object for more than 10 metres behind the bumper.

A reversing camera can make all the difference. Aside from the Commodore, Falcon, Aurion and Exiga noted above, The Toyota Prado and Hyundai ix35 turn zero-star reversing vision performances into five-star acts merely with the provision of a camera, which is standard on upmarket models.

The NRMA’s Reversing Visibility Index highlights the fact that there are no regulatory standards in the automotive industry mandating minimum levels of reversing vision. Manufacturers are, basically, free to write their own tickets there. Styling often dictates those terms, especially on sporty coupes with small rear glass and upswept boot-lines. Reversing cameras are filtering through the market now – with the early adopters including the 4X4 and luxury car segments.

The five-star RVI 4X4s were: BMW X5, Ford Territory, Kia Sorento, Lexus LX570, Mitsubishi ASX, Toyota Kluger and Toyota Prado – provided the model you purchase is equipped with an OEM reversing camera.