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While child driveway runovers have declined in Auckland, there’s been no reduction in the number of children run over in driveway accidents in the Waikato – mainly because of a lack of public awareness and education.
That’s the finding of two University of Waikato student researchers who’ve been looking at the data for a research project commissioned by the Child Injury Prevention Foundation of New Zealand.
Hayley Mills Poulgrain and John Hunter, who are partway through their social sciences degrees -- and are both parents themselves, conducted the research under the supervision of Dr Maxine Campbell of the Department of Societies and Cultures.
Their report is the first to look specifically at the Waikato region – drawing on data from the recently launched Midland Regional Trauma System. “The existing research focuses almost exclusively on Auckland data,” says Mills Poulgrain. “By accessing data from the Waikato DHB trauma registry, we’ve been able to make comparisons with the Auckland data for the first time since studies began in 1992.”
The latest figures showed in 2006-9 there were 12 accidents, two of them fatal, in the Waikato region compared to 43 accidents, with four fatalities, in Auckland. In both regions, preschoolers were the most common victims of driveway runovers, which were more likely to happen late in the afternoon or early evening, especially in summer.
But Auckland is the only region where driveway runovers have decreased, and that, say the researchers, is down to dedicated publicity and educational campaigns run in the Auckland region by Safekids New Zealand, a service of Starship Children’s Health.
“Safekids have a large pool of resources which are freely available, but they’re hard to find in the Waikato,” says Hunter. “Our searches found that only the local branch of Plunket had any relevant educational resources readily available.”
As part of the project, Mills Poulgrain and Hunter also looked at previous recommendations and suggested new solutions. They endorse the reversing cameras recommended in previous research, noting that it costs around $550 to install a camera compared to $1,000 previously. They also recommend visibility aids such as reflective viewers to overcome blind spots when turning on residential properties.
Their most innovative suggestion is for a virtual fence or a Kidcatcher for properties where it’s too expensive or impractical to permanently fence the driveway off from the children’s play area. The Kidcatcher is a durable net that can form a moveable physical barrier, but it’s not currently available in New Zealand.
Hunter, who previously worked in industrial automation, says another option is the virtual fencing used to keep industrial machines safe. “It’s basically a system of sensors and warning devices,” he says. “If you break the beam, the machine stops, preventing any injury to the operator. The same kind of system could work for both drivers and caregivers. In our report, we recommend that a low interest loan is made available to low income families who want to purchase a virtual fence.”
However, the researchers say there is no substitute for active parental supervision of young children and driver vigilance. “The evidence from Auckland shows that public awareness is a major catalyst in reducing the number of accidents and education is the best way to raise awareness,” says Mills Poulgrain. “What’s needed is a nationwide rollout of educational resources. This could be done through handouts at antenatal classes, immunisations and Plunket checks or at regular intervals through childcare centres, Kohanga Reo and kindergartens.”