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Preventing Backovers

Until recently, the government did not track the number of children injured or killed in non-traffic related incidents, such as driveway backovers. In 2007, the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act was passed, and this legislation, among other key provisions, directed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to collect such data. NHTSA released the Not-in-Traffic Surveillance 2007 report in January 2009, which confirmed that preventable deaths and injuries associated with vehicles happen every year on private driveways and in parking lots.

The NHTSA report found that in 2007 alone, 221 people were killed in backover incidents, and 14,000 suffered injuries. An additional 393 fatalities and 20,000 injuries were due to front-over incidents or being struck by a vehicle in some manner. It also concluded that an average of 588 fatalities happen annually involving passengers inside vehicles where children are strangled by automatic windows, left in hot vehicles or perished from carbon monoxide poisoning or vehicle fires. All told, in 2007, NHTSA estimates there were 1,747 fatalities and 841,000 injuries in non-traffic incidents, which translates to more than 33 fatalities and 16,170 injuries every week due to non-traffic incidents.

In an attempt to rectify these preventable tragedies, the US Department of Transportation proposed a safety regulation to help eliminate blind zones behind vehicles that can hide the presence of pedestrians and cyclists, particularly small children and the elderly, who may be shorter in stature.

For parents and all drivers, awareness and understanding is the first step toward reducing the risk of backover deaths.

Every Vehicle Has Blind Spots

Every vehicle has blind spots located beside and behind them. Backover incidents can be caused by the blind spot behind your vehicle that you cannot see in the rear or side view mirrors – or even by leaning out the driver’s side window.

Factors that can contribute to the size of a blind spot include driver height, vehicle size and type, elevation of the driver’s seat and vehicle window and mirror shapes. Even the slope of a driveway can affect the size of the blind spot behind your vehicle, so take special care when backing out of unfamiliar driveways.

Safety Tips for Motorists

Keeping children out of harm’s way requires ongoing education, supervision and vigilance. Safety experts advise the following strategies to help reduce risk of backovers:

  • Always assume children could be present and carefully check the street, driveway and area around your vehicle before backing out.
  • When backing up, always know where all children are and have them stay in your full view and well away from your vehicle.
  • Always look behind as you back out SLOWLY with your windows rolled down to listen for children who may have dashed behind your vehicle suddenly – and be prepared to stop!
  • Use extreme care whenever you back up. If you’re driving an SUV or truck, remember that the blind spot behind your vehicle can be especially large.

Safety Tips for Parents

Talk with your children about why they need to be careful around vehicles. Enlist older children to watch out for younger siblings who may not fully understand your concern. Ensure your children are properly supervised at all times, especially wherever motor vehicles might be present.

  • Teach children not to play in, under or around vehicles.
  • Avoid making your driveway a “playground.” If you allow children in this area, make sure that it’s only when  vehicles are not present. To further protect children who may be outside playing, separate the driveway from the roadway with a physical barrier to prevent cars from entering.
  • To prevent curious children from putting a vehicle in gear, never leave vehicles running and lock all vehicles, even those in driveways and garages.

Making Everyone’s Driveway Safer

Finally, talk with neighborhood parents about backover incidents and ask them to teach their children not to play in or around any vehicle or driveway. By working together to promote awareness and more protective home and neighborhood environments, we can help to keep all our children safe.