Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Since Summer is coming, something to think about...
From KOMO 4 News, Seattle, by Herb Weisbaum
62 reasons to be aware of this hidden danger
It's being called a nationwide epidemic -- kids being run over in their own driveway. Bigger cars with bigger blind spots are taking a tragic toll.
These slow motion rollover accidents are happening at an alarming rate, killing about 100 kids each year and injuring several thousand more. In most cases, the driver is a parent or relative, making this a tragedy within a tragedy.
And the sad fact is, there are simple ways to reduce this driveway danger.
We all do it: get in the car, start the engine, check the mirrors, then put the vehicle in gear. If that's all you do before pulling out of the driveway you've made a potentially fatal mistake.
"I don't want this happening again," said Kari Vastbinder, who was backing out of her driveway last July when it happened. "I don't want this happening to anyone."
She accidentally hit her then 2-year-old son, Aiden.
"I actually ran over him, went over his back and came close to going over his head," she said. "My neighbor stopped me. I pulled forward and my son was all bloody."
Her husband saw the whole thing happen. "I thought he was dead," said James Vastbinder.
James said Aiden was playing outside with a toy fire truck when Kari started the car. "I think when she started the car he decided he wanted to join her."
In less than five seconds, Aiden ran 30 feet across the lawn.
"He'd made his way over to the vehicle. He was caught under the right tire," said James.
Kari had absolutely know idea her son was there.
"He was in my blind spot," she said. He was little. I couldn't see him out of the side."
It's no exaggeration to say little Aiden is lucky to be alive. The 3-year-old boy carries the scars of that night on his arms, back, and forehead.
The consumer group Kids and Cars says at least 50 children are run over each week in this country because they're in a blind spot. Each week two of them will die.
Safety experts say the move to bigger vehicles is making the problem worse.
"The larger, the wider, the longer the vehicle, the larger the blind zone," said Janette Fennell, of Kids And Cars.
Testing Blind Spots
And, as we discovered, that blind zone can be huge. Consumer Reports helped me check a couple of vehicles in my neighborhood.
We used a road cone to simulate a child on a tricycle.
First, I got inside and adjusted the mirrors. Then Mike Quincy, an automotive expert with the magazine, started moving the cone away from the bumper, farther and farther back until I could see it in one of my mirrors.
The blind zone behind the Toyota Sequioa was 21 feet, 7 inches.
The Chevy Astro minivan was even worse: 27 feet, 9 inches.
To put this in perspective, ask yourself this question: How many children do you suppose can sit down behind an SUV without the driver seeing them in the rear view mirror?
According to Kids and Cars, the answer is 62. That's right, 62 kids could be there and you'd never see them, and that's a problem.
But what about sedans? I figured my car, an Acura sedan, would have a small blind spot. I was wrong. The tape measure showed a blind spot of 23 feet, 9 inches.
"Who would have thought that a sedan or coupe like yours is gonna have near the backup distance of a big SUV?" said Quincy. The spoiler at the back of the car really obstructs the rear-view vision.
Consumer Reports tested the blind spots of hundreds of vehicles. The Jeep Commander had the biggest blind spot, up to 70 feet with a short driver. Seventy feet is longer than my driveway!
Dangers in Front
Big vehicles can also have big blind spots in front. Unfortunately, backing them into the driveway as some people do, does not eliminate the danger.
"Some of the vehicles are so large and you're so high off the ground that you can't see little ones in front of the vehicle," Fennell said.
According to Kids and Cars, 60 children were killed last year in front-over accidents. That's more than one child every week.
Eight-year old Douglas Branson was one of them.
"Douglas was the cautious one," said his father, Phil Branson. "He would always ask if he could cross the street."
Last May, Douglas was walking home on the sidewalk in a quiet neighborhood in West Linn, Oregon, just outside Portland.
Phil Branson thinks his son dropped a toy and bent down to pick it up, just as a neighbor a few houses down the block was moving his SUV forward.
"He was hit immediately and carried into the street," Phil said.
West Linn Police Department Sgt. Neil Hennelly said the driver will likely suffer for the rest of his life. "I can't imagine this not affecting you every day," he said.
Janette Fennell, the Kansas City mom who founded Kids and Cars, drives an SUV with a built-in back-up camera. She thinks every vehicle should have one.
"As soon as that car is in reverse, the camera comes on automatically and look at that view," she said. "I can see all the way down the street and it's very clear to me where everything is. I'd never drive a car that doesn't have it again."
A number of manufacturers now have backup cameras in some of their vehicles, either standard or as an option. With that camera the big blind spot in the rear disappears.
But Douglas Branson's dad says technology alone won't solve this problem.
"Just take the time to slow down. Take time to think about your child being in or around the car," he said. "Think of other families' children."
This may surprise you, but there is no federal standard for rear visibility.
Congress is now considering the Kids and Cars Safety Act of 2007, a bill that, if passed, would establish a rear visibility performance standard so that drivers would be able to detect a person behind the vehicle.