After another toddler driveway death, the pressure is on to find a solution
The tragic death of a toddler run over by the family 4WD after he went to fetch a toy has reignited debate about driveway safety.
According to Kidsafe, one child a week is admitted to hospital with serious injuries after being struck by a car in a driveway and on average at least a dozen toddlers die nationally each year.
There have already been at least two reported cases in the first two months of this year; in addition to the death in the outer north-west Melbourne suburb of Hillside this week, another young boy was killed in his driveway on New Year’s Day near Geraldton in West Australia.
More than 80 per cent of toddlers killed while crawling or walking near cars are under the age of three.
The biggest threats to their safety are large recreational vehicles that have numerous “blind zones”. Such vehicles may give a commanding view of the open road ahead but their proportions make it almost impossible to detect small infants in close proximity.
According to studies by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau five and 10 years ago, between 50 and 80 per cent of infant driveway deaths involve recreational vehicles.
Recreational vehicles account for one-in-five new cars sold in Australia and yet, despite being over-represented in infant fatalities, car makers have been slow to adopt child-protection safety features.
Several government studies have recommended that a combination of parking sensors and wide-view cameras could minimize the risk of injury — but the take-up of these items has been slow.
Indeed, at the launch of the Holden Captiva this week it was revealed that the seven-seater model likely to be most popular with young families does not come with front or rear sensors. The more expensive mid-grade model comes with rear sensors while only the top-end flagship comes with a rear camera.
Holden boss Mike Devereux defended the lack of parking sensors on the most affordable seven-seater Captiva. He told the Carsales Network: “More than 50 per cent of Captiva buyers take the high grade model [which comes with a rear camera].”
When asked why only those who could afford the richer models get all available safety features, he said: “The vehicle is extremely safe, it is great value and people have option choices to make on every car they buy. If it became an issue obviously we would take a look at it, but we think we’ve got the right equipment for the vehicles to be competitive.”
The new Ford Territory due in April will have rear parking sensors on every model, while the top-tier models will also come with a rear view camera.
The Toyota Kluger mid-size softroader, meanwhile, has had a rear view camera across the entire range since it went on sale in 2007.
Speaking about this week’s driveway incident, which occurred as the vehicle was moving forward, Holden’s marketing manager for the Captiva, Kristian Aquilina, said: “From what I’ve seen a camera wouldn’t have helped in that situation”.
However, front parking sensors may have detected some movement — and they may be worthwhile of more serious consideration by car makers. The ATSB study showed that 40 per cent of driveway deaths occurred when vehicles were moving forward, the remaining 60 per cent when they were reversing.
Oddly, front sensors are standard on the cheapest, five-seater Holden Captiva a model designed to appeal to young urban types with no children but they are not available on the seven-seater models designed to appeal to families.
The 2002 study into infant driveway deaths by the ATSB said in part: “Enhancing motor vehicle safety is another important component of a comprehensive preventative strategy. Attention needs to be directed towards improving the driver’s visual ergonomics. There is also a potential role for technological measures to enhance object detection. Such measures include proximity sensors, additional mirrors, wide-angles lenses and video systems. Whereas it is unlikely that a proximity sensor could be developed that would work as a stand-alone measure, it may be feasible to develop a viable countermeasure of moderate cost based on a combination of proximity sensor and a wide-angle video camera system.”
Following a spate of driveway deaths in the mid-2000s, NRMA Insurance began testing and publishing a rear visibility rating for popular cars.
The Holden Captiva is not among the list of models tested, but results for vehicles of similar size and shape paint a chilling example.
A Ford Territory without parking sensors or a rear camera scored one-and-a-half stars out of five. The same vehicle with rear sensors scored two stars, while the same vehicle with rear sensors and a rear camera scored five stars.
A camera does not guarantee a five star rating, however, as the wide angle view and low light picture quality are also taken into consideration. Extra points are also earned when the camera is used in conjunction with rear parking sensors.