Keeping Mum

Dita De Boni looks at the trials and tribulations of being a parent.

Backing up on backing out

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When you become a parent you find certain news stories about children - usually involving the mistreatment or injury of them - really strike a chord.

It's not that because you're a parent you're particularly empathetic, or kind, or understanding suddenly. Or that people without kids don't feel the same sense of disgust or sadness in reading these stories.

But I think it is that when you are a parent you suddenly develop a kind of radar for seeking out and reading these tragic tales - and if you're anything like me, you also have a masochistic urge to imagine how awful it would be if your kids were the victims of these heinous doings.

One genre of story that always sends a cold shiver up my spine is that of kids being run down in driveways.

It is, unfortunately, yet another area of statistics where New Zealand is a world beater - owing, some say, to our long driveways and our plethora of new housing with shared driveways and crammed in parking spaces (more specifically an Auckland phenomenon).

Not only is the story always heartbreaking just because a little child is killed or seriously maimed, but the tragedy is often compounded because - as statistics bear out - it's usually a parent or close relative behind the wheel of the car that does the killing and maiming.

It's usually kids between two and four that cop it, slightly more boys than girls, and Maori and Pacific Island kids make up three quarters of cases.

In all cases the deaths are ghastly mistakes that could have been prevented.

A report in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal examines 93 accidents in the years between 2001 and 2005, including nine fatalities.

While the deaths often make the news, it seems clear that there are a heck of a lot of seriously injured kids out there who are also victims of the same problem.

From a similar report written in 2002 comes a description of the types of injuries and long-term disabilities that are common as a result of driveway accidents - major head trauma, base of skull fracture and intracranial haemorrhage are frequently occurring, while long-term complications ranging from mental handicap to learning difficulties have also been charted.

The report's authors have found that absolutely nothing has changed in terms of trying to reduce these accidents between the last report's publication in 2002 and the most recent one, and that the frequency with which children are mowed down in their driveways is "shameful".

Their solution? An education campaign for people, aimed at making sure people take care with backing out of driveways (this is also a major cause of injuries for posties) and, taking things a step further, mandating that new housing designs allow for cars to turn around and leave the property front forward.

Most controversial is a suggestion that all driveways be fenced off.

As always, my thoughts on the fencing issue are that people who are diligent and generally good people will fence off their driveways - but they're probably the people who take care when they back down the driveway anyhow. They're also the people who would microchip and properly confine their dog, for example.

Others will simply ignore a new law, either because they don't care about it or because they simply can't afford the fence.

It is tempting to wonder about the guardians of these children, and berate them for their lack of care. Who knows whether this is a feature in many of these incidents.

But those of us with toddlers know how fast they can move, how inquisitive they are, how unthinking about traffic and road safety they naturally tend to be... How there but for the grace of God might go ourselves or our children.

Not only that, but anyone with any experience of driving must surely have experienced lapses of concentration that might have proven fatal.

Could we, as a general driving populace, benefit from an education campaign about backing out of driveways, if only to slow us down a little and ensure we don't accidentally do something that will not only ruin another's barely-begun life, but haunt us for the rest of ours as well?

- Dita De Boni

Pictured above: New Zealand has a shameful record of toddlers being run over in driveways. File photo / Richard Robinson

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