By Elia Petzierides
It is a well-established and widely-known fact that when it comes to driving, speed kills. But does that make low-speed harmless? To answer this question, let’s get behind the steering wheel and go on three, short, low-speed journeys. These journeys all occurred within the state of Victoria, Australia during 2011.
Sixteen-month-old Dhiyan was at home in the suburb of Hillside in his grandmother’s arms when one of his brothers and father were preparing to drive to school on the morning of February 15. Dhiyan wanted to go outside to wave goodbye to his father and brother so his grandmother carried him outside then placed him on the ground so she could tie the shoelace of Dhiyan’s other brother. Rapidly, and without anyone noticing, Dhiyan crawled into the path of the vehicle and was run over with the front passenger tyre. He was taken inside the house, emergency services promptly attended, but he died of blunt head trauma.
Three days’ later, and 60km away in Chirnside Park, the smell of barbecue was in the air as a family enjoyed the balmy summer evening in the front yard of their property. Their house was located adjacent to the long common driveway shared by the other two houses on the same large property. Seventeen-month-old Pio was playing with his siblings under the watchful eye of their mother. Pio’s brother headed off for the sand-pit which was on the other side of the driveway. The neighbours were driving at low-speed in their four-wheel drive when Pio’s brother was crossing the driveway. They stopped, had a short conversation then continued down the driveway when they immediately felt a bump at the rear of the vehicle. Pio’s body was seen through the side mirror lying on the driveway behind the car. Emergency services attended the scene but Pio died of head and neck injuries.
On June 14, sixteen-month-old William was playing with his siblings while his mother was washing dishes in the adjacent room in their family home in Red Hill. William’s father left for work from the front door of the house. After diligently checking the mirrors of his four-wheel drive he reversed the vehicle. Having felt a bump at the front left wheel William’s father stopped, looked forward and saw William lying limp on the driveway. Unbeknownst to him, William had followed him outside. William’s father commenced cardiopulmonary resuscitation and asked his wife to call 000. Despite being airlifted to the Royal Children’s Hospital, William died from his head injuries that evening.
The Coroner who conducted the Inquest for these three deaths requested the Coroner’s Prevention Unit to compile a report on Low-Speed Vehicle Run-Overs (also referred to as LSVRO). In the state of Victoria over a twelve year period from January 2000, fourteen children died after being struck by a vehicle in a driveway and 73 sustained non-fatal injuries.
Alarmingly, the Australia-wide statistics over a ten year period from 2001 show that 66 children died after being hit by a vehicle in the vicinity of their home. In the eight year period from 2002 a total of 483 children were seriously injured from the same mechanism, averaging 60 per year.
Some interesting trends have also been identified by the largest study to date which looked at data in Queensland, Australia over an eleven year period.
• 1. Most common in age group of 0-4 years.
• 2. Occurs slightly more commonly in boys than girls.
• 3. For every death there are sixty injuries.
• 4. Two slight dips in fatalities during study period may be linked to public awareness campaigns.
Data capture and collation throughout Australia is yet to be standardised for low-speed vehicle run-overs which presents problems for researchers. In the United States the Not in Traffic Surveillance (NiTS) database offers an accurate annual figure of 292 fatalities and a staggering 18,000 injuries as a result of low-speed vehicle run-overs.
Considering deaths from low-speed vehicle run-overs considerably outnumber deaths from children locked in cars (by a ratio of at least 10:1), the relatively minimal media coverage given to low-speed vehicle run-overs in comparison is disappointingly insufficient. Especially when one considers public awareness campaigns may assist in reducing fatalities.
The 2013 Coronial Inquest of the above three deaths listed two main messages as part of a campaign to promote driveway safety. They were:
• 1. “Just because you can’t see me doesn’t mean I’m not here” and,
• 2. “Always make sure you know where your children are before you reverse out of a driveway.”
Queensland based low-speed vehicle run-over researcher, and lead author of the aforementioned study, Dr Bronwyn Griffin kindly agreed to be interviewed by GraveLessons.com. She highlighted three key areas for prevention which fall under the following headings: “supervise, separate and see“. Dr Griffin then elaborated.
“Supervise children at all times and not just by eye. Small children move fast and sporadically, they are unpredictable, so if you are near cars don’t just keep an eye on them (like pool safety) but keep a hand on them, hold them close! Teach kids to wave goodbye from a safe place – never the driveway. Put them in the car with you if you are home alone and have to move the car.”
“Separate – in residential areas, driveways should be separated like a pool is. It may sound excessive but so did pool fences in the beginning. Treat the driveway like a road – never a play area. Use fences, self-closing gates with high-set handles. Always keep parked cars locked to avoid accidental car movement also.
“See – this refers to seeing your children, look for children by walking around the car before getting in, check they are restrained properly, check your mirrors AND reversing camera (if you have one). Most drivers, rightfully so, will check the reversing camera and the reversing mirrors. It can be that glimpse between (the mirrors and camera) where a small child can slip behind the car, it is that fast!”
“Take extreme caution and tick all your safety boxes before you move the car. Be diligent and mindful ALWAYS if you have young children around cars. Don’t go if you don’t know!”
When asked about a recent fatal low-speed vehicle run-over where the driver was watching the reversing camera Dr Griffin said, “I do think a camera is not a bad option but it is not THE answer. Technology and car manufacturers need to start taking on more responsibility too. Some already have, like Volvo with the auto-braking system, but others need to follow. However this must be in collaboration with good research to scientifically prove a decrease in morbidity and mortality rates (the frequency and number of deaths and serious injuries) looking for vital correlations with other potential causative injury characteristics (including human, vehicle, environmental and social). The building industry for example could be leading the way, looking at evidence around garage designs and several toddler deaths in Australia, where the simple installation of a high-set handle on heavy self-closing internal doors could have prevented a death.”
While it is abundantly clear these are not isolated one-off events, what is not clear is when we will see a sustained reduction in low-speed vehicle run-over deaths and injuries. In the meantime, separate, supervise, and see like your child’s life depends on it. And don’t ever think that low-speed is harmless.
With thanks to Dr Bronwyn Griffin for being so generous with her time and knowledge.
Kidsafe Queensland brochure
Kidsafe Victoria website and other resources
The author Elia Petzierides is a Victorian based Advanced Life Support Paramedic and a Registered Nurse with a Graduate Diploma in Advanced Clinical Nursing.
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