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Children at risk as driveways become danger zones

A 2-year-old girl wandered into the path of her mother’s sport utility vehicle in the driveway of their home in Holland on Tuesday evening.

Her mother couldn’t see the little girl from the driver’s seat, and the SUV struck the girl, according to investigators with the Erie County Sheriff’s Office. The child survived and is listed in serious but stable condition at Women & Children’s Hospital.

It’s the kind of accident that happens frighteningly often.

Each year, 15,000 children are injured in the United States in such accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Nearly a third of the victims – 31 percent – are children under 5.

On average, 210 of those children die every year in what is often referred to as “backover” accidents.

Janette Fennell, president and founder of the Kansas-based Kids- AndCars.org., has another name.

“To me, it’s known as ‘the bye-bye syndrome,’ ” Fennell said.

When a parent says, “Bye, bye,” as they leave, children don’t want to be left behind. They run out to wave to their loved one, but the driver doesn’t realize it until it’s too late.

The tragedies are compounded by the fact that they happen at home as someone in the family slowly leaves the driveway.

“It’s not like they’re being rash or using unsafe behavior,” Fennell said.

One Texas family she knows told her how the young daughter was upstairs getting ready to go out with her mother when she heard her father’s car leaving.

Before her mother realized she was gone, the girl ran out to see him.

“He backed over and killed his daughter,” Fennell said.

Fennell’s organization is devoted to changing laws to make cars safer for children and it has focussed on the need for rearview cameras in cars and other initiatives.

About 200 grieving parents volunteer with the organization to raise awareness. Pictures of their children are posted at kidsandcars.org along with photos of them smiling, playing with bubbles and sitting on a slide.

“People say lives can change in a second,” Fennell said. “This is probably one of the perfect examples of that. One second later, they’re gone, and you’re the one responsible.”

In recent years, fatalities of children have soared, KidsAndCars research shows. Between 1996 and 2000, 88 children died in backovers, when cars backed over them in the driveway. Between 2006 and 2010, there were 448 backover deaths.

Between 1996 and 2000, 24 children died in “frontovers,” when cars rolled forward. From 2006 to 2010, there were 358 frontover deaths.

Numbers spiked, Fennell said, because cars changed. More people drive SUVs, trucks and vans, with poor sightlines. “There’s so many of these vehicles that are so high off the ground,” she said. “They don’t even realize they can’t see what’s in front of them.”

The incident in Holland involved a 2012 Dodge Durango, a crossover SUV.

A sheriff’s investigator said he occasionally hears about such incidents locally. He remembers one in Clarence some years ago.

“They backed up. They struck the child, but didn’t end up going over the child,” said Deputy Eric D. Kaderli, who leads the sheriff’s Crash Investigation Unit.

Fennell’s organization posts an online list from Consumer Reports magazine of car types and their “blind zones,” the number of feet that drivers can’t see around.

A 2011 Ford Fiesta sedan had a 19-foot area that a 5-foot-8 driver could not see. A 2003 Dodge Neon leaves 43 feet that a 5-foot-1 driver can’t see.

Consumer Reports and KidsAndCars also collaborated on an ad that helps make the point: 62 children sit behind an SUV that shows a clear, empty rearview in the mirror as a mother climbs in and starts to back out.

In 2008, President George W. Bush signed a law mandating rearview cameras in cars, legislation that was lobbied for by KidsAndCars. Even so, they continued to be sold as optional extras, part of expensive car upgrades that many buyers skipped.

KidsAndCars sued the federal government to put the regulation into action. As of this year, all new cars must have the cameras. Fennell said, “It’s impossible to avoid hitting something you cannot see.”

email: mkearns@buffnews.com

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