Driving tests

Preventing driveway run-overs

Roughly every two weeks a child is admitted to hospital because it has been run over in a driveway. Around five children are killed each year this way. It’s usually younger children (mainly toddlers around 2 years old that don’t have much awareness of what a car is, and are too small to be seen out of the back window), and they usually die at the scene, or are left with quite significant disabilities.

The person driving the vehicle that runs the child over is almost always parent, relative, friend or neighbour (mainly because these are the people who will have access to your driveway).

Driveway accidents are more likely to occur when someone is in a rush to get away, and in a situation where they are leaving children behind at home, e.g. parent going to work, or a relative leaving after visiting.

There is more risk of a driveway run-over:

  • on a long driveway
  • in fine weather when kids are likely to be playing outside
  • on a driveway that is shared with other properties
  • on a driveway without fencing to the garden or areas where children play
  • where the driveway is also the pedestrian access to the house
  • where the driver is driving a vehicle with poor visibility immediately behind, such as an SUV.

Some vehicles have a blind area as long as 10 metres behind the rear bumper. The factors that influence this blind zone are driver’s seat height, vehicle height, mirror position and the size, shape and height of the rear window. As SUVs tend to be taller, they are more prone to these blind areas, but it is applicable in cars, too, especially those with spoilers that can block the view.

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X r

Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X has a spoiler which impedes the view out of the rear window, worsening the blind area

What can you do to stop driveway run-overs

Almost all modern cars have reversing sensors and/or a reversing camera. These will give a much better chance of detecting a child immediately behind the car, but not necessarily if they are right up against the bumper. Reversing cameras and sensors can be retrofitted to most cars. The camera should detect when you have changed gear into reverse and come on automatically. Don’t rely on the camera alone as the distortion in the image can often hide objects, or adjust the perception of distance.

reversing camera

Some vehicles have a simulated surround view using multiple cameras, but they still should not be relied on 100% to detect small children behind the car

If you don’t have reversing sensors or a reversing camera, and you have young children, or are reversing down a shared driveway where young children are likely to play, walk around to the back of your car first to check there are no children there.

Keep your speed down when reversing.

Remember that just because you didn’t see a child when you walked around your car doesn’t mean that they couldn’t have been moving and have been out of sight. Keep an eye on your mirrors and through the rear window, and use your peripheral vision to remain alert to children that might run behind your vehicle.

Ensure your children are being supervised by an adult as you leave. If you’re the only adult in the house and you need to move your car, put your children in the car with you while you move it.

Teach your children driveway safety as early as possible.

Make sure all the children you intend to be in the car are actually in the car and belted up in an approved child safety seat.

It’s possible that a child playing in a car could release the handbrake and the car could roll down the driveway injuring another child or causing a crash. Don’t let children play in your car.

Child-proof your driveway. Either fence it off from your garden and use a childproof gate, or fence off an area in which your children can play. Put a gate on your driveway so that other people can’t park there. Have visitors park on the road, and if you are visiting a house with children, park on the road.

If your children are already in the car and you are returning from being out, reversing into your driveway is safest as they will not be there, and when you leave you will be driving forwards. However, bear in mind that reversing is the most dangerous manoeuvre – 68% of driveway runovers occur when reversing.

Make sure that your windows are clean and that you adjust your wing mirrors properly.

If you drive an electric or hybrid car which makes virtually no noise at low speed, be aware that there’s no audible cue when you start moving.

Get your music and phone sorted out before you engage a gear in your car – you don’t want to be distracted by them when you should be paying attention on your driving.

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Darren is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists and the NZ Motoring Writers' Guild

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Posted in Advice, Car
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