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Parents and others who allow kids to play in a driveway have always foolishly overlooked a safety hazard that comes with the potential for injury or death. Now larger vehicles and quieter vehicle technology exacerbate the risk.

Blind spots -- areas as large as 50 feet deep by 7 feet wide behind and along side the vehicle -- are virtually invisible to a person in the driver's seat, and the growing size of blind spots are responsible for a 57 percent increase in backover deaths among kids under 2 years old.

Also, hybrid vehicles are making inroads to fuel economy, but when they run nearly silent on electric batteries they are quieter than the sound of human breathing and effectively create a new, potentially deadly deaf spot.

More and more kids are killed each year because drivers don't see them while backing up and a nonprofit vehicle safety agency Kids and Cars says such deaths are up 57 percent from 2002 to 2003.

Kids and Cars reports:

  • Backup incidents caused death in 392 of 561 documented incidents.
  • An injury or death occurred in 99 percent of cases documented in the Kids and Cars database.
  • The predominant age of victims were kids aged 12-23 months.
  • More than 60 percent of backing up incidents involved a larger size vehicle such as a truck, van or sports utility vehicle (SUV).
  • Parents or close relatives were behind the wheel in more than 70 percent of the incidents.

Also, a 2005 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey reported that among more than 2,400 children treated in emergency rooms every year due a child being struck by or rolled over by a vehicle moving in reverse, half of them were 1 to 4 years old.

One real estate agent says an often-overlooked parking technique can greatly reduce backover mishaps -- back into parking spaces.

"The safest procedure is to back into a parking space which allows a driver to more safely drive out. Since a driver would pull up to a parking space and have full view of the area before beginning to back up, when leaving, driving forward, the danger of running over someone (because of a blind spot) is virtually eliminated," said Judy Mize, a real estate agent with ERA Kepple Keene Realtors in Louisville, KY.

"Yes, it is more difficult to back into a parking space, driveway, or a garage, but with practice and effort, it becomes second nature. Professional drivers have known this and have practiced this procedure for many years. It is taught in defensive/safe driving classes and is a very low cost-low technology answer to a very serious problem," she added.

Unfortunately, the parking procedure may be prohibited in certain HOA communities and garages where exhaust emissions are a concern. Also, many drivers find it easier to back out into an empty street or parking lot aisle rather than backing into to a narrow driveway or parking space.

To help people visualize the scope of driveway danger zones Consumer Reports measured the blind spots of a host of vehicles for both the average-height driver (5 feet 8 inches) and shorter drivers (5 feet, 1 inch).

The measurements reveal blind spots ranging from 7 feet for an average-height driver behind the wheel of a Toyota Prius to an invisible zone of more than 50 feet for a shorter driver piloting a Chevrolet Avalanche 1500.

Don't count on your rear view and side mirrors to compensate. No matter how accurately you adjust rear and side view mirrors you can't fully eliminate blind spots.

A rear view mirror can only see what you can see out the rear window. And too often, for some unknown reason, drives watch the side of their car as they drive because they incorrectly adjust side view mirrors to display the sides of their cars. The mirrors should be adjusted to view traffic or people after the view is lost from the rear view mirror.

To make matters worse, too many poorly trained, distracted drivers (cell phoning, iPoding, snacking, applying makeup, sipping coffee, and otherwise doing everything but driving) simply glance into their mirrors, switch into reverse and start backing out before they ever turn around to see what might be behind them or approaching the rear of their vehicle. By that time it's too late.

"Bottom line: Your best defense against backover accidents is to get out of your vehicle and check behind it just before you back up. If kids are nearby, make sure you can see them while backing up," Consumer Reports noted.

That remains true even for vehicles equipped with rear view cameras that can completely remove the blind spot, with back up warning lights, beepers, sensors and with devices designed to warn the driver or pedestrian a vehicle is backing up.

"While backup sensors are handy as parking assists, Consumer Reports' testing has shown that they are not reliable as safety systems. Rear-view video cameras, on the other hand, give the driver a wide-angle view of the area behind the vehicle, which can help prevent backover accidents," Consumer Reports reported.

Hybrid gasoline-electric battery powered car technology designed to save gasoline and cut down on pollution also creates quieter vehicles that can be dangerous to pedestrians.

When the cars idle or, in some cases, move at lower speeds the vehicles are too quiet, literally whispering along at only about 3 decibels. Human breathing registers 10 decibels.

The vehicles are so quiet, the National Federation of the Blind has raised concerns that they pose special hazards to people who need to hear what's coming when they cross a driveway or a street.

Kids and Cars offers the following safety procedures:

  • Walk around and behind a vehicle before moving it.
  • Know where your kids are before you board your vehicle. If they are playing outside, before you board your vehicle, make them move away from your vehicle and into full view you can see once you are in your vehicle.
  • Teach children not to play in driveways or in, around or behind a vehicle. Explain that "parked" vehicles might move and even though they can see the vehicle the driver might not be able to see them.
  • The driveway should be a car-only zone -- except perhaps during garage sales and other household events requiring the use of driveway space, at which time the car should be parked elsewhere. Keep toys and sports equipment off the driveway.
  • If your car isn't equipped, especially if it's a large or tall vehicle, consider installing cross view mirrors, audible collision detectors, a rear view video camera or some type of back up detection device.
  • Know the size of your blind zone. Use Consumer Reports' measurements or the magazine's measuring technique to determine your own.
  • Be aware that steep inclines coupled with large SUV's, vans and trucks expand the blind spot.
  • Hold onto children's hand when leaving the vehicle. Make them exit on the curb side or side away from moving traffic whenever possible.
  • Never leave children alone in or around cars; not even for a minute. Always make sure all child passengers have left the car after it is parked.
  • Keep vehicles locked at all times; even in the garage or driveway. Never leaves keys in the ignition unattended or within the reach of children.
  • Take extra precautions during busy times, including holidays, schedule changes, emergencies, etc.
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