Our grandchildren love coming to our place. There's a selection of bikes and swing cars and a great expanse of concrete right around the house. It's mostly flat with a gentle slope down to the road gate, so there's plenty of opportunity to chase each other and build their bike confidence at our place.
We live next to a private road with six other families living off it. We have three signs within 50 metres, warning users of the potential presence of free-range kids. We remind users of the need to slow down. There's nothing more fearsome than a grumpy grandma shaking her fist at those who aren't mindful that this is not an open road.
We want traffic to slow down around our schools and to watch out on the road when there children are obviously present. The school zone speed limit is likely to drop to 30km/h in the near future and that will take a conscious effort by us motorists to slow down as we drive past at sensitive times.
Enhanced enforcement will ensure that we do it. School zones are public areas and the law is there to make them as safe as possible. But there's no such law around our houses!
It was great fun watching the kids enjoying themselves last weekend until grandson rounded a corner on his bike, to see a car that wasn't there before, and he bailed out. Much drama, a skinned knee and a bruised ego. A plaster and grandma cuddles put it right, but it got me thinking: how safe are kids on our driveways?
Roughly every two weeks in New Zealand, a child is admitted to hospital because they have been run over on a driveway. Around five children are killed each year this way. It's usually younger children, mainly toddlers around 2 years old, who are just getting mobile but who can be surprisingly quick. They don't have awareness about what a car is and are too small for anyone to see looking out the car's back window.
Around 70 per cent of driveway run-overs happen while reversing. The driver is almost always a parent, relative, friend or neighbour, because these are the people accessing our driveways.
It is difficult to imagine the horror and abject devastation of running over your child. A Perth mother, who reversed over her 19-month-old daughter Aurora in June this year, says "every day is a battle just to breathe. I've had people tell me that I'm a bad parent. How can you accidentally run over your child?"
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Social media can be pretty brutal at a time like that - but think about it. It could happen to any of us.
Driveway accidents are more likely to occur when someone is in a rush to get away or when they are leaving children behind at home. Some driveways pose a greater risk than others. Long, unfenced, shared driveways are more problematic, especially when they are also a pedestrian access.
Some vehicles without reversing cameras or sensors have a blind area as big as 10 metres behind them. The factors influencing the blind spot might be vehicle height, driver seat height, the mirrors' positioning, and the size, shape and height of the rear window.
This issue is so important that the Health, Quality and Safety Commission released a report called "Low Speed Run Over Mortality", which recommended a number of actions.
• Always count the kids before driving off and know where they are
• Keep cars locked, windows closed and keys out of the ignition on driveways
• Slow down while driving and encourage visitors to park off the driveway
• Actively supervise children around vehicles – check, check and check again before driving off.
Modern cars have reversing cameras and sensors but it will be a long time before all cars have them. Technology though, cannot replace the common-sense vigilance of knowing where the kids are when cars are around.
• John Williamson is chairman of Roadsafe Northland and Northland Road Safety Trust, a former national councillor for NZ Automobile Association and former Whangārei District Council member.