On May 21, 2008, a little five-year-old girl named Maria was struck by a car; even after being airlifted to a hospital she died of her injuries. She wasn’t running out into the street and she wasn’t hit by a stranger driving by, she was hit in her own driveway by her teenage brother. It was a terrible tragedy, and became newsworthy since she was the youngest daughter of five time Grammy Award winner Steven Curtis Chapman.
My initial reaction was shock and deep sorrow for the family. It’s hard to imagine the grief a family would go through not only losing a child, but also living with the knowledge that the accident was caused by another family member. I’d heard previous stories of parents and other relatives running over young children; some dealt with grief and shame for many years. But was this just a freak accident? According to Washington D.C.’s FOX channel, there were at least twelve “back over” deaths in driveways in the month of May. Last year, more than fifty children lost their lives in this type of accident.
As the parent of a seventeen-month-old toddler, I began thinking about and researching ways such an accident could be prevented. I certainly don’t want to see this type of tragedy happen to my little girl or my neighbors’ kids. But there are always kids outside on the driveways near my home, especially now that the weather is warmer, so I may need to be extra vigilant. Here are a few thoughts on what you can do to prevent these accidents:
- Keep track of small children whenever you’re outside. For me, this means holding on to my daughter’s hand when we go out the front door and watching her while she plays on any outside toys or equipment. It also means looking out for my neighbor’s kids before I get in the car, and making sure I see them all before I back up.
- Keep your children strapped in your car while moving things in and out of the vehicle. This may mean strapping your child in before you bring out recreational equipment or leaving them strapped in while you bring in the groceries. Accidents often happen when there are other distractions and responsibilities.
- If possible, keep the driveway out of reach with fencing. If you want your children to be able to play in the driveway, help them be aware of the dangers of vehicles. Even a parked vehicle can be dangerous and should not be a play-thing. I’ve also seen netting that is available to put across a driveway while children are playing. There was one accident I read about that happened due to a delivery truck that came into a driveway without suspecting there was a child playing on the ground. Such an accident could’ve been prevented if there was some netting, like a volley ball net, across the driveway to alert the driver that something or someone might be in their way.
- As a driver, take a few extra moments to check around your vehicle before you get in, especially around blind spots. Even if you have the extra safety equipment available on your car with cameras and sensors, there are blind spots. A child could be retrieving a toy from under your car, for example.
- Know where your small children are before you move any vehicle and as visitors come and go. If you’re by yourself and need to move a vehicle, you may want to strap them in first.
- When you have family or guests over, and as you teach your older children to drive, remind them of any small children that may be playing nearby. There’s nothing like hearing about a child being driven over by a parent or other loving relative to sober a driver as they go into and out of driveways.
I am excited to have warm weather and to see children playing outside, but I know I’ll be thinking twice about keeping my driveway safe for my family. And the Chapman family will continue to be in my thoughts and prayers.