Backing up: The tragedy you may not see

John Taylor: August 16, 20070 Comments

I've crunched a few sprinkler heads and nearly torn a driver's side door off its hinges while, presumably, carefully backing up my car.  The experiences left me irritated with myself, and a few hundred dollars poorer.

But I can scarcely imagine the horror of accidentally backing over a loved one. There's no regular tracking done at the state or federal level -- as yet -- but the numbers gathered by nonprofit, consumer advocacy groups are alarming. Using police, media and other reports, the groups estimate that as many as 750 children are involved in accidents annually with vehicles backing up -- with as many as 226 kids killed.

Accidents and negligence -- like leaving/forgetting kids inside locked cars in summer heat -- often bring the injured and grief-stricken to Level 1 trauma centers like the Community Regional Medical Center in Fresno, the only facility of its kind between Los Angeles and Sacramento.  Prevention is part of the outreach message that nonprofit Community brings.

The Wall Street Journal spotlighted the peril of backover deaths in a feature about the risk posed by tall SUVs. When I went car-shopping in 2006, one of my prime criteria was whether I could see the end of my car when I looked over my shoulder. If I couldn't, no sale.

The high-profile (and high-priced) push for vehicles that virtually park themselves, abounding with sensors, puts renewed focus on the it'll-never-happen-to-me problem.  The Journal noted that automakers like Toyota, BMW, Ford, Cadillac and Mercedes-Benz offer back-up or rear-view cameras ($300-600) on their $31,000+ models -- but most only do so for those buying satellite navigation systems (as much as $2,000). And not surprisingly, the companies say the cameras/sensors are parking aids and not safety devices designed to detect children.

In a society where distracted drivers leave purses, sodas, laptops and kids in car seats atop their vehicle roofs, it's going to take serious, long-term public education efforts -- and maybe some knuckle-rapping of car makers -- before these nightmares dwindle.

Among groups focusing on the dangers of leaving unattended children in or around vehicles:  and