Aug. 6, 2001 -- Children like to play in driveways: those enticing empty spaces right next to the house. But doctors warn that even though they are not in the street, kids playing in a driveway can still be hit by a car or other vehicle.
In fact, when researchers of a new study reviewed data on children injured in driveways, they found 6% died and an about another 6% had long-term medical problems requiring months in the hospital.
"Many injuries occur around the driveway. Unfortunately this is an under-recognized problem, because these injuries aren't reported to police," says senior author Henri R. Ford, MD. Ford is professor of pediatric surgery at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and is chief of pediatric surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
In the study, reported in the August issue of Pediatrics, researchers reviewed 13 years worth of data, where 64 children were admitted to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh after being hit by a vehicle in a driveway. In 44 instances, children were injured when they were hit by a moving vehicle, driven by an adult. The remaining 20 youngsters were hurt when a child entered a stopped vehicle and shifted the gears. The injured children had an average age of 4.
Of the children struck by a moving vehicle with an adult driver, more than half were hit by trucks or sport utility vehicles while they were backing up.
"We didn't expect to find this, but it makes sense due to the increasing popularity of these vehicles," says Ford.
So what can be done to prevent these injuries?
"We need to educate parents to make sure driveways aren't used as play areas, and that their car is always locked, even if they just step away briefly," Ford tells WebMD. "In addition, vehicle manufacturers need to devise optimal mirrors so parents can visualize small children even if they're standing in back of the vehicle."
Driveways are dangerous places, says Joe Larkin. "When kids ride bicycles on the sidewalk, they ride right past driveways without looking. The dangers are obvious, while the solutions are more difficult to determine." Larkin is a spokesman for the National Safety Council, located in Itasca, Ill. He agrees that mirrors extending the driver's view around the vehicle are a "good idea" but doubts that companies will equip vehicles with them without further research.
When cases like driveway injuries happen, they are always tragic, says Michael Shannon, MD. "They happen where you least expect it; they could happen to anyone's children." Shannon is associate chief of emergency services at Children's Hospital, and associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston.
Although Shannon says the study results are important to doctors and parents, he is not convinced that extended mirrors will reduce injury. He disagrees that trucks and SUVs are causing most of these injuries.
"We haven't seen that in our ER," he says.
But Shannon does agree that the key to prevention is encouraging better parental supervision and keeping vehicles locked at all times.
Although more research is useful, Ford says it's time to take action. "I don't know how many more children have to die before we devise sound recommendations to minimize the chance of these injuries repeating themselves."