As the Herald on Sunday campaigns to improve our heart-wrenching driveway death statistics, we show how easy it is to miss a child standing right behind your car. Kirsty Wynn investigates.

The trouble with our driveways is they've always doubled as the place we park our most dangerous asset and the space we allow our most precious and vulnerable to play.

Our cars have huge blindspots, drivers are often distracted and driveway design is poor - it's a deadly combination for kids. Around five children die each year on New Zealand driveways.

Another 60 are seriously injured, some maimed for life. And sadly it is usually a parent, family friend or relative behind the wheel.

This week the Herald on Sunday visited a carpark at a popular children's playground to illustrate how bad blindspots can be.


Unbeknown to the drivers, we placed a road cone, the same size as a small child, in the path of a reversing car.

All of the drivers in our experiment hit the cone-one backed right over it without noticing and drove off unaware of the reporter who gave chase to get comment.

Another driver, who did not want to be named, said, as a nanny, she was well aware of backing dangers but was shocked she had not seen the cone.

"I even have a reversing camera but I don't look at it because it is not my car and I am not used to it," she said. "I can't believe I didn't see it, I checked all my mirrors and turned around as well."

Father of two Justin Zhang nudged the cone slightly with his Audi. He said he only did so because he could clearly see what it was on his reversing camera.

"I could see it was just a traffic cone and needed to go back further to get out. But I would say I think everyone should have a reversing camera. They make backing so much safer."

26 Dec, 2012 12:00pm
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Our third driver, a man with his wife and three children in the car, didn't even realise he had backed over the cone and drove off before our reporter had a chance to speak to him.

The experiment was not designed to scare drivers but to show how poor visibility is in modern cars. Modern design, including smaller rear windows, high backseat head rests and larger pillars, make cars safer for passengers but deadly for young children standing unseen in driveways.

Coroners who investigate the tragic deaths of children killed by reversing - and forward driving - vehicles have long called for cars to be fitted with cameras, beeping sensors and mirrors to help drivers.

On average around 68 per cent of children killed are hit by reversing cars. The restwere killed by cars driving forward.

In 2010 coroner Christopher Devonport commented on the death of two-year-old Ludahvick Grant, of Wairoa, saying even if the driver had checked his mirrors and looked around he would not have seen the boy.

At less than a metre tall he was lower than the bottom of the driver's door window.

Ludahvick was in the driveway while his father spoke to the driver of the car, a 4WD Hyundai Santa Fe, through the passenger window.

Neither the boy's father or the driver knew he was beside the car's right front wheel. Ludahvick was run over when the driver reversed.

After Ludahvick's death Devonport recommended all new cars be fitted with technology to help drivers.

"Carmakers should be required to ensure vehicles have no blind spots, through the use of mirrors, sensors and cameras," he said.

Research by State Insurance shows only cars with reversing cameras receive a five star rating for safety.

The Herald on Sunday's experiment supports what child safety advocates, and the Automobile Association, say - that reversing cameras have to be used correctly to be effective.

Mark Stockdale from the AA says reversing cameras are not the silver bullet some think they are.

"They are certainly useful but they do not absolve drivers from their responsibility to ensure the path is clear before they reverse."

Stockwell says quality of cameras vary and the restricted vision provided by cheaper cameras give a dangerous false sense of security.

Despite their shortcomings, Stockwell still believes the cameras have merit and says families should invest in a car with a reversing camera or have one fitted if they can afford the price tag which is estimated to be between $200-$900 installed.

Former television presenter, Neil Waka, now a corporate affairs manager at Holden, says car manufacturers are aware of blindspot concerns and Holden now has reversing cameras as standard in even the entrylevel model of cars.

Clive Matthew-Wilson, editor of online car buyer guide The Dog and Lemon, says all cars should be fitted with cameras.

His 1963 Morris Oxford was retrofitted with cameras and sensors and he says the sensor had already saved one life.

"I was about to back out of a park at Countdown in Grey Lynn and I heard a beep.

"There was a small child right behind me and I had checked the path was clear before I reversed. Kids are quick and unpredictable-it is what kids do."

Matthew-Wilson says the Government should make interest-free loans available to poorer families so that they can retrofit reversing cameras and parking sensors to the family vehicle.

Every day's a blessing

Grandad Upokoina Tuakura comforts his grandson in hospital in 2007. Right: Oki Tuakura cradles his son Dekota who is now 8. Photos / Doug Sherring, Chris Skelton

Oki Tuakura's face beams with pride as he talks of his son Dekota's love of karate and V8 cars.

Every day is a blessing for the proud dad whose son survived being run over in his grandparents' driveway when he was just 2 years old.

Dekota, now 8, was standing clear of the Hiace van his grandad Upokoina Tuakura was manoeuvring around the family's Huntly property.

"He was standing there with the other kids and all of sudden he dropped some lollies and just like that he went under the van to get them," Oki remembers.

Dekota was in the front blindspot of the car's left-hand corner, a blindspot not even the best reversing camera can highlight.

Upokoina says after he felt the initial bump he had no choice but to drive right over his grandson.

"I heard the kids yell out. I felt something under the van but I carried on.

"He was already under-if I stopped I would have stopped on top of him. So I just had to go over him," he told the Herald on Sunday at the time.

The little boy was rushed to Waikato Hospital where, despite his chest being run over by the van's wheel, it was found he had only a broken collarbone and some bruising.

Upokoina, distraught he had run over his grandson, spent every moment by his grandson's side until he was better.

Dekota can't remember the accident, something his parents are grateful for. "It was pretty scary and he was only little so he doesn't remember it and we don't talk about it a lot," says Dekota's mother Shontelle Tuakura.

The boy's grandmother Ngahina Tuakura says the accident has had a lasting effect on the whole family and has changed their attitude to driveway safety.

"Now we have a rule that the children are inside the house with someone or in the car when we move it," she says.

"It takes longer but we know what can happen now. I am very careful."

Opinion: Tales of heartbreak

by Kirsty Wynn

Destiny Whiunui treasures the photo of her son Brodee. Photo / Chris Gorman

During my years as a reporter at the Herald on Sunday I have spoken to far too many families who have lost a much-loved child in a driveway accident.

The summer months are the worst. It seems like almost every week brings another serious injury or death, another family torn apart by the same sickening heartbreak.

Asking a hurting family to share and relive their worst nightmare in hope that their story can help others is not easy.

But it can never compare to what these families go through.

The mums and dads I have spoken to love their kids and feel they have failed as parents for not protecting them.

It is a pain that no person should have to experience.

Their houses are filled with photos and toys and their lives filled with 'what-ifs' and constant reminders of what they have lost.

Papakura mum Destiny Whiunui shared stories, video clips and photos of her beautiful son Brodee with me.

Brodee died instantly when his dad Rima, accidentally backed over him on the way to get takeways in November last year.

Little Brodee ran behind the van to get in but Rima thought he was on the porch with Destiny and he reversed.

Brodee's head injuries were so severe there was no hope of performing CPR. Instead the family gathered and held him as he died.

With eyes blurred with tears, I could hardly see the video clips and went home and hugged my two young daughters harder than ever before.

As a parent you can take every precaution and try to minimise every risk but unless physical barriers are put in place there is always room for human error.

Last week, I learned my car, a Honda CRV, was rated among the worst for child safety because of backing blackspots.

I can see the benefit of reversing cameras and think anything that can death isworth it.

I feel I am more aware of driving dangers because of my work. I park on the street so my girls can ride their bikes on our fenced drive and I am constantly telling them about the dangers of cars.

But I will never judge. Kids can be frighteningly unpredictable.