September 30, 2011

Horse 1233 - Death by 4WD

Before I started out writing this piece, I had a hard time finding the exact article I was looking for. Quite frankly I was shocked, dismayed and rather disappointed at what I found. The results below should show why:
A 16-MONTH-OLD boy died last night after being run over by a reversing utility in the driveway of a Mornington Peninsula home.
The boy, from Red Hill, suffered critical head injuries when he was hit by the Toyota utility shortly before 4.30pm at Prossors Lane
- The Age, 15-06-11
A two-year-old girl has died after she was run over in the driveway of her parents' house south of Perth.
- ABC Perth, 03-07-11

A two-year-old girl has died after she was hit by a car in a driveway in Lindfield.
Emergency services were called to Milray St, Lindfield at about 5.15pm after reports the girl had been run over in her driveway.
- North Shore Times, 22-09-11

This was the actual news story I was looking for:
POLICE have urged parents to be vigilant when driving near young children following the death of a toddler yesterday after he was run over by the family car, the third such case in a week.
The three-year-old boy died after his mother accidentally reversed the family's BMW 4WD over him at their home in Rushcutters Bay, in Sydney's east, yesterday.
The tragedy came within a week of two similar accidents.
- The Australian, 29-09-11

Are you noticing a trend here? I am.
What's also shocking is that every single one of these tragedies which have no doubt ruined their respective families was ultimately avoidable. In Horse 1155 I wrote something about Four Wheel Drives in the city; my view is unchanged. They're big but they're not clever.

I think that it's worth reiterating this report from the Queensland Injury Surveillance Unit:
In Australia pedestrian crashes are responsible for half of all transport related deaths of children aged under five years. Of these fatalities half are the result of a low speed driveway run-over.

A recent study examining driveway run-over deaths of young children in Australia found that most fatalities involved toddlers being reversed over by a large 4WD vehicle in the driveway of their own home by a member of their immediate family.

Nearly 80% of the cases were described as occurring at home with 60% taking place in the driveway or garage/carport. Forty per cent of runovers occurred on a Saturday or Sunday while 40% took place between 3pm and 6pm in the afternoon and 32% between 8am and 12pm in the morning.

I understand totally that people who but these vehicles probably do so because they're under the impression that their family will be safer. Admittedly there have been vast improvements in the safety ratings of big 4WDs over the past ten years, but on the whole they still lag behind "normal" sedans and hatches in terms of safety.
Also, it's generally true that in an accident between a big thing and a small thing, the laws of physics will dictate that the big thing generally wins. Unfortunately when that big thing is a 4WD and the small thing is a child, the rule also applies and the results are tragic.

I don't want to diminish the sadness of what has happened but when children are killed by a car in their own driveway, this indicates a serious problem and I think that it's very fair to lay the blame squarely at 4WD vehicles themselves.
By their nature they are built to have a higher ground clearance (though in some cases like Mercedes' ML series this is debatable) and the reason for this is that a 4WD vehicle is ostensibly designed to travel over rough surfaces. If you happen to be living on a farm, or in the country where you need to be regularly driving on dirt roads or paddocks, then a 4WD vehicle is obviously the perfect choice but if you are living in the city, then quite frankly you're not using the vehicle for the purpose for which it was intended.
Because big 4WD vehicles are suspended higher above the ground than "normal" cars, the view out of the rear window can be as much as 1000mm above the view that you get out of a "normal" car. Unfortunately whilst the car might be taller, children aren't. A child who might be visible out of the back window of a Honda Civic, might not be visible at all out of the back window of a big 4WD vehicle.
There is more than a hint of tragic irony in that presumably a vehicle which was bought to protect the precious occupants, is the same instrument which brings death.

Some portion of the blame for these sorts of tragedies must lie with the regulations which allowed them to be sold to people in the first place.
As the law stands, it is possible for someone to get their full Driver's Licence by the age of 21 and never ever be tested ever again. This doesn't even allow for the fact that at age 21 most people are driving smaller and cheaper cars; by the time that they reach 40 and have a family, the cars that people are driving, are far far bigger behemoths weighing more than two tonnes.
You need to get a special permit to drive a forklift; you need to get a special permit to work in a confined space, so why is it that you don't need a special permit to drive a vehicle which kills with alarming regularity?
Police said it was most likely that Harry had chased the soccer ball behind the moving car and his mother simply didn't see him.
"It is just a horrible, horrible accident that is any parent's absolute worst nightmare," a police spokeswoman said yesterday. Officers investigating the accident said Mrs Blencke had "done everything right".
- The Daily Telegraph, 30-09-11

Done everything "right"? How can something like this be considered "right"? The Telegraph has understandably written a very emotive piece but doesn't even think of suggesting that steps to avoid this sort of situation should be taken in the first place. Why not?
How come no-one ever suggests that there might be something "wrong" with driving unsuitable vehicles in the city? How come no-one ever suggests that there might be something "wrong" with having untrained people driving said vehicles in the city? Until something drastic changes in the law or the way it is administered, we're going to continue to read stories like this in the newspaper; basically because people think that big 4WDs are cool.


Anonymous said...

are you saying that people shouldn't have the right to buy whatever car they want? that's dumb.

Rollo said...

Not exactly.

I'm saying that there is something wrong with a system that allows untrained people to use something which is dangerous.
I for instance can't go out and simply ride a motorbike, because I don't have the proper permit. Why not? Because it is unsafe to do so.

If the statistics prove that big 4WDs are rather unsafe, why shouldn't we have more stringent legislation over their use?