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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Backover Deaths Kill 1,200 Children Each Year

Technology That Could Reduce Deaths Offered Only As Optional Equipment

Since 2000, more than 1,200 children under 15 are killed in nontraffic motor vehicle accidents in the United States. According to Kids and Cars, a child safety advocacy group in Leawood, Kansas, half of those fatalities were in backovers, almost all of them involving children under 5.

The group said that least two children are killed each week and another 50 are hurt in backover accidents. During three days in April, six children were killed; by the end of the month, 11 more died.

Technology that could reduce the number of tragic deaths, such as rear cameras and audible warning sensors, are not considered safety equipment by automakers and are offered only as optional parking aids in most vehicles. It could be years before they become as commonplace as seat belts.

"Everybody says the worst thing that could ever happen is the death of a child," says the advocacy group's founder and president, Janette Fennell. "What's different in these, in over 70 percent of the cases, it's a direct relative of the child that's behind the wheel - mom or dad, grandma or grandpa, aunt or uncle."

In a report to Congress in November, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said backover accidents are not a new phenomenon. But NHTSA disagrees that the number of accidents is increasing as the size of the nation's vehicle fleet grows - led by SUVs and minivans, which tend to have larger rear blind zones.

Consumer Reports magazine conducted a study that suggests SUVs, pickups and minivans are longer and taller and their blind zones extend as much as 50 feet from the rear bumper. The report says these factors contribute to poor visibility.

From 1991 through 2004, federal figures reveal an average of 76 backover fatalities each year on public roads, nearly three-fourths of them involving passenger cars, pickups and SUVs. The report said most of the dead were children under 5.

Fennell's database reveals that backovers killed 104 children under 15 in both 2005 and 2006.

Devices like audible warning sensors or rear cameras are standard in some luxury brands and only about 100 vehicle models. Warning sensors can add $100 to a vehicle's price, a camera system about $300 - still cheaper than aftermarket cameras and sensors, which range from $150 to over $1,000.

"Our government, and rightfully so, has put a lot of focus on belts and air bags," Fennell says. "If you do all those right things and are unfortunate to get in a crash, you might be able to walk away. But they've totally ignored the fact that at 1 mph, the interaction of a child and vehicle is lethal."

Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry trade group that represents nine top automakers, said, "Safety really is our priority." But without parental supervision, a safety device is of little value.

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