by John Cadogan

What’s the second-most frequent way for a child in Australia to die accidentally? Here are a few of hints: It’s not drowning in the backyard swimming pool (that’s actually the most common way). It’s not being run over in the traffic. It’s not falling off the back deck or the third-floor balcony, either, or electrocution, or suffocating with a plastic shopping bag over its head while mum or dad chats on the phone.

Nope, the second-most common cause of accidental childhood death involves being cleaned up by a car in the driveway at home. This is, on average, a weekly event in our allegedly advanced society. A tragic, preventable way for a child to check out of the system way too early – which leaves indelible scars on the perpetrators simply because they are nearly always the parent, a close relative or a family friend. It’s the kind of horrific error that takes only a few unthinking moments to commit, and which never, ever, goes away.

It’s clearly an area where urgent regulatory reform is needed.

Although Kidsafe and the Medical Journal of Australia have attempted to highlight the risk to kids in driveways, the NRMA ripped open this can of worms a few years back when it released its first Reversing Visibility Index (RVI) – a star-based rating system that assessed a bunch of then-new cars and SUVs based on the visibility to the young driver of a young child standing behind the vehicle. The organization released its latest set of RVI ratings recently, revealing that many common cars are – let’s be kind – hardly designed with any consideration to offering the driver an adequate view of a young child standing just behind the rear bumper.

The RVI is a tremendous initiative by the NRMA – especially as it’s an area where there is a massive vacuum where there really should be robust regulatory standards. That’s right – car manufacturers are basically free to offer as little view of toddlers behind vehicles as they want. It means styling concerns – and not public safety – dictate the terms of car designs. Which explains the high rear boot lines and small rear windows that predominate in some car classes (like sports coupes, for example).

When I reported on the first RVI results a few years ago, on radio, I was promptly telephoned by a representative of a major Japanese car importer, whose products really didn’t rate so well, then or now. This person told me, in no uncertain terms, that the RVI was essentially hokum because there was no standard for reversing vision globally, and because the company in question designs its vehicles to meet global (and Australian) standards. Therefore, there was no problem.

This is the kind of disingenuous, zero-IQ argument (also called spin) for which morons and their bureaucracies are famous. The fact is, the car industry commonly chooses to exceed regulatory standards when it sees a commercial benefit – and the classic example of this is the zeal that surrounds achieving a five-star ANCAP safety rating. The regulatory standards for crash protection are still pathetically low (the one-star Mitsubishi Express van complies with relevant crashworthiness standards, for example).

The car industry, however, now sees the benefit of selling five-star crashworthiness because buyers increasingly demand it. In fact, a growing class of informed car buyer won’t consider buying a new vehicle if it lacks stability control and head-protecting side airbags – a very smart consumer call. (And if you disagree, just visit the brain injury unit of a major hospital. That should convince you.)

The organization responsible for the crashworthiness ratings, ANCAP, now enjoys a positive (albeit of necessity an arms-length) relationship with the car industry. But this was not always the case. Early on – before advanced safety features were proven to sell cars – ANCAP highlighted the inadequate crashworthiness of many cars that were new 10-12 years ago. The car industry dismissed ANCAP’s initiatives as misguided and alarmist very early on. ‘Smeared’ is probably a better word than ‘dismissed’.

Perhaps the NRMA is on a similar trip with the RVI. Let’s hope so for the sake of the 50+ children who will be cleaned up in home driveways over the next 12 months.

Frankly, Australian consumers are conditioned to believe regulations will protect us from defective products. Nobody, for example, expects their laptop to overheat and burn the house down if you leave it plugged in to recharge overnight. Nobody expects the kettle to explode and spray scalding water all over the family while they are awaiting their morning cuppa.

The same consumer presumptions pertain to cars – even though in some cases the standards that are presumed broadly to exist simply do not. (Take a look at the minimum standards for crashworthiness for light commercial vehicles, for example. Ask yourself why manufacturers like Ssangyong, Proton, Mahindra and Mitsubishi, respectively, are allowed even to field the Actyon, Jumbuck, Pik-up and Express for sale in Australia in the 21st Century. It’s an embarrassment that the Federal Government will not acknowledge even in the face of expert advice to act.)

Bureaucrats and PR managers can usually stump up 1000 reasons why the status quo is perfectly adequate if it suits their purposes. But the NRMA’s RVI could easily do today for child safety what ANCAP did for occupant protection a decade ago. Especially with a regulatory nudge in the right direction.

The RVI highlights a few perception-slashing results. For example: It’s not 4WDs alone that offer pathetic rear vision of young children – in fact there are many more zero-star rated cars in the RVI than there are zero-star 4WDs. (This is mainly thanks to the growing number of 4WDs with reversing cameras.) There are more five-star RVI 4WDs than there are five-star small cars.

Some edited zero-star RVI lowlights: Mazda2 (sedan), Mazda3, Mazda6, Honda Civic, Honda Accord Euro, Suzuki Kazashi, Falcon, Commodore, Honda Accord, Audi A3, A5 and S4, Mercedes-Benz C Class. Otherwise these are widely regarded as great cars…and the ‘fix’ is merely the corporate decision to fit a reversing camera on the production line. Often these cars already have in place a central LCD screen, making integration concerns minimal.

It makes you wonder. Parents, especially new parents, often put advanced safety features on the top of their list because they are coming to grips with the imperative to protect their children. What will the car industry do when the imperative to protect children in driveways blips on the public radar? I’m tipping that within a decade just about every vehicle will come standard with a reversing camera. The impact of this on the bottom line should be negligible. Anyone who suggests that Mazda, Honda, Suzuki, Ford, GM, Audi and Mercedes-Benz lack the wherewithal to integrate reversing cameras across their ranges right now is off with the fairies. Some of these companies spruik their commitment to safety elsewhere very hard indeed, remember. The reason reversing cameras have not proliferated is simply that public awareness hasn’t caught up with the problem – yet.

Protecting children in driveways is about managing risk, and the best approach using established risk-management principles is to apply safer vehicles and better human safeguards. In other words, we need safer cars driven by safer drivers in safer driveways.

That means the other issue that’s important here is the deafening silence from our state regulators. There is basically no public awareness campaign about driveway danger, and no toolkit for drivers about risk management in the driveway at home.

(An advertising campaign highlighting the benefits of walking around the car before backing out, reversing slowly with the windows down and the stereo off, and making sure you know where the kids are before you move the car would be a damn good start.)

Such an awareness campaign would be perhaps even more important than the NRMA RVI – given that the average Australian car is just under 10 years old. The upshot of which is that many of the cars for sale today – and their inadequate reversing vision – will wait patiently in driveways Down Under for the next decade and a half, requiring either an aftermarket reversing camera or a big, fat dose of parental risk management for years to come if the risk they pose to kids is to be adequately mitigated.

Instead of getting into gear on this, all we hear from our state road regulators – the most arrogant bureaucracies this side of the Tax Office – is more ‘advice’ about speed, fatigue, alcohol and seatbelts, which is nothing more than self-justifying marketing to morons. Total bureaucratic inaction on the second-most common cause of accidental death in children is perhaps one of the most glaring deficiencies in your tax dollars working for you and your kids. It’s not really that difficult a problem to solve.




  • Eric

    As stated most cars on the road have not got cameras fitted. Maybe like the LPG rebate there could be one for reverse cameras. Paid for with the red-light camera revenue.

    Or people could park on the street so they don’t have to reverse.

    Eric

  • Shak

    Simple way to solve it. A wide ranging blanket legislation which ensures that manufacturers have to fit cameras as standard or offer them as options on every model they sell. Wont cost the Government any form of revenue, and will ensure that this stupidity displayed by some drivers is slowly culled.

  • http://BMW Nelson

    Change your habbits Reverse into the Driveway when arriving home.
    When people come home their Kids usually are in the car and you have a vision of what’s going on in a distance,when looking from the road up the driveway. When you leave you don’t reverse out and can see the Kid’s your responsible for but forget about them!?

    How about that?

    It makes sense…

  • Daniel D

    John,
    A well considered and written article. I always enjoy reading your articles on road safety related matters. Keep up the great work and I wish you the best in finding other venues where you can publish these stories. They certainly deserve as broad an audience as possible.

    Dan

  • Vidahlla

    Why a camera? Aren’t reverse parking sensors enough? I trust mine so much that a tall weed growing out of my driveway made me get out and check the other day. A camera is only good if you’re looking at it, audible is the best way.

    • ST

      Sensors are OK but they don’t detect everything behind and are easily fooled. Certainly better than nothing but a camera in conjuction with sensors are the best combination you can have right about now.

  • http://www.autoservicewarranty.com Robbyn

    I think checking the rear, sides of the car is a must even if you don’t have small children in your house. I always do the three checks rear, right side, rear again.
    I think the camera’s are great but they aren’t standard on cars older than 3 years.

  • ST

    Great article yet again however the message most of the time falls on deaf ears. I have a friend looking at buying a car and no matter what I tell them, it seems that they care more for how it looks and how their friends see it than the holistic safety of a vehicle (ANCAP rating, airbags, ESC, reverse camera etc).

    A lot of it comes down to this “it’s an accident SOMEONE else makes” and it’d NEVER happen to me and the advertising message will just fall on deaf ears. When it comes to advertising about deficiencies in their driving, people will always say that their driving is fine and that it’d never happen to me. We need more than TV ads. We need people out there spreading the message about something that can be easily preventable and doesn’t require you to even start the car.

    • http://www.caradvice.com.au/ John Cadogan

      Couldn’t agree with you more. People are unwilling to admit they could drive better. They call them ‘accidents’ when they mean ‘crashes’. And some people would buy a car with the big alloys and the fully sick stereo instead of the safety features every time. In fact I think some people would forego seatbelts if they were optional, which is why we need a high level of legislation on safety features – so they can’t be optional.

      • Eric

        Police don’t call it a Accidents they call it an Incident.

        The other issue is where to we stop??

        Speed limiting all cars to 110K/Hour
        Integrate an alcohol detection system
        Integrate power limits reduction if you have a P or L plate.

  • http://www.KidsAndCars.org Janette Fennell

    John,

    Thank you for your fabulous article! Unfortunately the critics are very uninformed.

    Would you purchase a vehicle if you couldn’t see 20-30 feet going forward? Of course not; but many of the vehicles we buy today have a blindzone that is that large behind them. We should be discussing visibility here; pure and simple.

    In the U.S. fifty children are backed over by vehicles EVERY week. Forty-eight (48) are treated in hospital emergency rooms and at least two (2) children are fatality injured every WEEK because they cannot be seen in the large blindzone behind vehicles.

    The U.S. is bit ahead of the game here. (for once) Our nonprofit organization was successful in getting legislation passed (the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act) in February of 2008. It requires our government to finally set a rear visibility standard. It’s hard for me to fathom that we have been manufacturing vehicles for over 100 years without any standard about what you should be able to see when backing. It might not have been such a huge issue when vehicles were low to the ground and had huge back windows, but look at the vehicles we are purchasing today.

    We have partnered with Consumers Union (publishers of Consumer Reports) and they now measure the blindzone behind every vehicle that is tested in their facility. That information is available for free on their web site as well as ours. http://www.KidsAndCars.org. There is one vehicle that has a blindzone of 59 feet!

    It will be very interesting to see the final regulation when it is issued. Right now it’s slated to be released in March of 2011. We wrote the bill so that the automakers would have tremendous flexibility in the way they meet the standard. (cameras, sensors, mirrors, etc.)

    Yes, walk all the way around your vehicle before moving it and make sure children are being properly supervised as well. Young children are impulsive and unpredictable; still have very poor judgment and little understanding of danger. In addition, young children do not recognize boundaries such as property lines, sidewalks, driveways or parking spaces. Toddlers have established independent mobility between the ages of 12-23 months, but the concept of personal safety is absent. Backovers are often the predictable consequence of a child following a parent into the driveway and standing behind their vehicle without their parent’s knowledge.

    And when the children are grown and gone and the flexibility in your neck is compromised; you’ll be glad we came to the conclusion that backing up blind is not a safe thing to do.

  • John of Perth

    I am not sure the ever increasing dependence on electronic aids is necessarily a fix in itself. I take more care when reversing in vehicles with no aids. It comes down to duty of care. With small kids, vigilance & appropriate restraint, before you even get in the car, is absolutely critical.

    (from one who ended up under his father’s Hillman Minx in 1959)

  • My Cars Called T-Rex

    Poor rear vision is one of the worst design flaws affecting nearly all modern car designs.
    Some small cars are the worst offenders,even Aussie utes also have followed this trend,over practicality.
    Maybe there should be design rules for rearward vision,there is design rules for other(lesser)safty reasons,why not this extremely important one.

  • Hooda

    These cameras and sensors should be GST-free.

    Same with gym equipment and gym memberships.

  • http://www.facebook.com/peterlindsayellis Peter Ellis

    All the writers point and ideas are valid, however, you cannot make people grow a brain with an advertising campaign. When I was driving along my own street at 40 k’s my neighbours 6 year old ran out on to the street in front of me, thankfully I had time to brake and avoided an accident, then the mother of the child proceeded to abuse me at the top of her voice! She was too busy chatting with 5 people out the front of her house to have time to supervise her child properly and had the cheek to abuse me! With parents like that in this world is it not surprising that they are so distracted by their own issues that they cannot make the time to check where their child is before they reverse their insanely oversized four wheel drives out of their drives! I have alot of sympathy for the children, but the parents should be charged for neglect!

  • Horst

    Good article John, I can’t agree more.
    By the way, the NRMA RVI “recent” results are obviously older than your article. Commodore is zero-star rated despite offering reversing camera across the range incl. Omega…

  • George

    How about this, buy a smaller car?

  • Magpie

    Where is the logic of looking at the dash board when you reverse a car ????

    Know where your kids are, look behind you make sure the driveway is clear.

    Why do we always look for technology to make up for our own laziness

  • Talk then think

    How about a noise like a truck makes when it backs up simple and effective.

  • Save It for the track

    How about nobody reverses a car without an observer to stand behind them and make sure nothings there? ;)

  • Bold

    Look at this CA article: http://www.caradvice.com.au/58898/child-restraint-safety-how-will-australias-new-laws-affect-your-child/

    There must be a mistake somewhere, it says we lose 80 kids in frontal crash per year in australia.

    Then the article above says “the second-most frequent way for a child in Australia to die accidentally” happens on drive way, and this year there will involve “50+ children”.

    If so, why frontal crash is not the 2nd most frequent reason children die accidentally in Australia?

    CA, can you please advice?