It's deja rearview all over again

As of last year, more children were being killed in driveway accidents in New Zealand than by the domestic violence that so shames our society.

In other words, more kids died from benign, loving people committing even momentary lapses, rather than from raging, monstrously out-of-control adults.

Not only have we been fatally running over or into five of our children each year but, much less conspicuously, one child a fortnight has been rushed to hospital with injuries. Typically, serious ones.

In December, a $30 million Government initiative to confront the deaths and damages on our driveways was starting to get traction. About half of that money is being spent fencing off play areas from the driveways of state houses - a clear problem area.

Meanwhile, perhaps with more affluent households in mind, car manufacturers have been proclaiming the benefits of reversing cameras and sensors.

And good old Plunket has been imploring people to be careful reversing.

Look at us now. It's still March and an 18-month old girl has just died after a driveway accident in Auckland. Earlier this month, Wallacetown boy Brodie Molloy died.

Brodie's case was not entirely typical, in that he was 7, but that itself serve as a reminder that although the most dangerous ages are between 18 months and 3 years, the perils extend well past the scuttlings of the very young.

This isn't a problem in which there's widespread interest in fingerpointing. Even the authorities tend to sigh heavily.

In January, coroner Wallace Bain, reporting on the death of 16-month-old Taupo boy Tyrese Hill, in a Rotorua driveway made no criticism of the driver but instead said the need for more public education and awareness strategies regarding driveway safety needed to be made clear to decision-makers.

Mr Bain acknowledged it was beyond the scope of the court's findings to make recommendations on vehicle and driveway design, but that "these are matters that clearly need to be examined" to better protect young children.

For their part, the police in that case found driver error was the primary cause of death but they, too, stilled their hand. They did not believe there was enough evidence to support a legal charge of careless driving causing death. The tyke had been missing for just a few moments.

In several countries, authorities are considering making reversing cameras mandatory. New American research has concluded cameras are the most effective technology to prevent reversing collisions, though they are still far from failsafe.

In February, safety activist Jo McLoughlin was promoting a thoroughly low-tech approach. Just a mat, placed somewhere the reversing driver could see it.

The rule would be that the driver would reverse only when he or she could see the child or children, safely accounted for, on the mat.

Look, superior driving aids, driveway layout and household practices (like nixing using driveways as kiddies' play areas) will all potentially save lives. But parental vigilance still trumps it all.

Not just alert driving but, even more crucially, knowing where the kids are - not where they ought to be or shouldn't be, but actually bloody well are - remains the single best achievable prevention technique.

The Southland Times