Herald on Sunday Editorial: Driveways don't need to be a killing zone

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Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

It is every parent's nightmare. You are in the car, reversing out of your garage, making all the manoeuvres you always do. Your mind is on a hundred other things far removed from the possibility that a child - yours or the infant next door - has chosen that moment to dart across your path.

You have forgotten how quickly a little light body can move on impulse. The consequences do not bear thinking about.

Children are killed or injured in this way so often that it usually receives only a paragraph in a newspaper. Yet each one is a tragedy that can take not only the life of the child but leave an emotional scar on the driver, parents and the family for the rest of their lives.

Today, this newspaper has taken a closer look at deaths on home driveways and investigated what might be done to reduce the toll. We report some suggestions, that nothing is foolproof and nothing can relieve drivers from the responsibility to pay attention and ensure, before they drive away, that no toddler is unsupervised nearby.

Fences are the obvious solution, but the design of many traditional homes makes that impractical. The drive often comes past the house to a garage at the rear. If the household has more than one car, as many do nowadays, much of the section will have been concreted for off-street parking and turning bays.

Many urban sections have been subdivided with a common driveway to two or more houses, and not much space anywhere outside for tiny tots to play.

Even where there is a lawn that can be safely fenced off from the vehicles, it would be hard to stop children playing on the concrete. Driveways are inviting for scooters and skateboards. Older children, boys and girls, like to bounce balls on the hard surface and shoot a hoop on the garage.

Little wonder that their infant siblings want to go out there too given the chance.

Something more drastic than fencing seems required. At Starship Children's Hospital, which treats severe injuries from driveway accidents every week, doctors suggest new safety requirements in section designs. They would like garages placed near a road so that the driveway is short and more easily fenced. That would be safer for children on the property but possibly worse for a little one on the footpath out front.

The Auckland Council's draft unitary plan, due to be published next month, is expected to include new rules for driveways and manoeuvring space in residential developments, not just within properties but also where driveways may cross the public path.

The plan will be open for comment and, more important, additional ideas. Its designs for higher density housing within Auckland's present boundaries make solutions more urgent.

The planners propose to require all new dwellings to contain a safe outdoor playing area for children but they admit that in many apartments these will have to be balconies.

Lower multi-unit developments ought to be able to keep vehicles safely away from children, perhaps garaged underground or walled from a shared playground that has separate pedestrian access from the street.

New state house developments already boast this sort of design. Housing New Zealand is also assessing what it might do for safety in its older properties where tenants have toddlers.

But it bears repeating that no precaution can be effective all the time. Infants are curious and quick. They need to be not only watched but held by the hand whenever they are in the vicinity of vehicles.

They are too little to be seen from a driver's seat and too young to know what the driver is doing. When the worst happens, adults may be blameless but they will always blame themselves.

There is no substitute for caution, both when pulling out of a driveway or watching someone do so when there is pre-schooler nearby. New Zealand should not have such a high toll of child death on driveways. With care and vigilance we can reduce this most heart-rending of accidents, avoid the anguish of parent drivers and the loss of those unaware of any peril where they play.

- Herald on Sunday

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