Rotorua Weekender: Driveway safety

By Cherie Taylor

Every adult needs to take responsibility for children playing in driveways to ensure they aren't hit by reversing cars, says former Rotorua Parents Centre president Claire Armstrong.

The Rotorua mother of three, Isaac, 7, Dylan, 5, and Trent, 3, is speaking out about the dangers following the death of 3-year-old Hatepe toddler Te Haeata Pitiroi near Taupo on Christmas Eve.

The child was killed when he was hit by a car backing out of the Te Mako Mako Lane shared driveway he was playing on. Attempts to resuscitate the boy at the scene were unsuccessful.

Claire says, while it is absolutely devastating for the family dealing with the death of a child, such tragedies can be avoided by everyone taking responsibility for children playing outdoors.

"It's such a horrendous thing for any family to deal with. You can see how easy it can happen,'' she says.

A Rotorua District Council safety officer provided Parents Centre parents with paving stones for the children to paint and put in a safe spot for them to stand on while cars are backing out of driveways.

They also showed parents how little they can see when reversing with blind spots hiding younger children out of view up to 10m behind a vehicle, which was very "insightful'', Claire says.

"I couldn't believe how much you can't see when you are reversing.''

Children don't see the dangers either, especially young kids under the age of 3, and you can't see them, adding to one big disaster in the making, she says.

"It can happen so quickly. Kids are very quick.''

Her own children are made to stand behind a locked security fence when drivers leave the property.

But living in a cul-de-sac with lots of houses and a lane at the end, makes for Russian roulette at times _ ensuring she  is extra vigilant when backing out of her own driveway.

"The kids are riding around on bikes all the time. It can be really dangerous.

"You just have to be extra careful because kids can't think for themselves. They don't see the dangers and think adults are watching them,'' she says.

"You can see how easily it can happen, especially with a shared driveway.''

The answer is everyone keeping a watchful eye.

The problem arises when everyone else assumes someone else is watching them, Claire says.

"Every adult needs to take responsibility. Kids are just so quick. They can run out behind a car and you won't see them.''

Driveways are not play areas, Claire says.

"You need to teach them from a very young age that driveways are not playgrounds. That cars are dangerous.''

Every two weeks in New Zealand a child is hospitalised with serious injuries caused by driveway-related accidents, according to Safekids director Ann Weaver.

There have been 24 child driveway deaths since 2007.

Summer is the peak time for these accidents to happen as children are outdoors more, Ann says.

The most common victims are aged 1 to 3.

As families gear up for summer, Plunket says we need to keep a watchful eye on pre-schoolers.

Plunket National Child Safety Advisor Sue Campbell says often in summer and through the holiday period, with more people around and friends and family visiting, there are often more cars in driveways increasing the risk of a driveway accident.

"With more cars coming and going, and more children and adults around. This all increases the risk of a driveway run over tragedy or a child wandering off.''

In most cases, children are hit by cars in their driveways, Sue says.

"In the majority of cases the driver is known to the child, often a parent or relative, and the incident usually occurred on the driveway of the property where the child lived.

"Most of these children are toddlers, aged one to two years of age, and when death does not occur, the injuries they receive are often severe, sometimes resulting in permanent disability.''

It's an avoidable tragedy, she says.

"It's terribly sad and there is so much we can do to bring this number down ... It would be great to see families or groups taking time to ensure an adult is watching out for children at all times. Maybe the adults in the house can take turns watching the children while the others relax.''

Sue urges drivers to where possible, drive forwards out of the driveway, always check behind the vehicle before reversing, and to know where children are before starting a vehicle.


Driveway safety:

Count the kids before you manoeuvre.

Understand how big the blind area is around your car _ your line of sight may be less than you think.

Keep cars locked and don't let children use driveways as play areas.

Ensure a responsible person (not a group of kids) is actively supervising toddlers and young children.

If you're visiting someone's house, park on the road instead of the driveway.

If you're expecting visitors, ask them to park on the road or put up a barrier to stop them parking in the drive.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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