Last year on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, as I backed out of my driveway, my then 3-year-old daughter darted behind my car and I hit her.
It has been a year and I am finally able to talk about it. Why am I writing this for everyone to read in the newspaper? So that hopefully other families will never have to experience the traumatic event that our family did.
After I told her I was going out, Kate decided that she wanted to go with me and without telling the babysitter, ran out the front door to try to get into my car. Within a few moments of starting to back up, I heard screams. Initially I thought it was the neighbor’s children playing. Then I realized that the screams were not screams of joy but rather screams of terror. I stopped the car, jumped out and ran to the back of the car. I found my daughter coming to her feet, her face covered in blood, her clothes torn, her shoulder and legs bleeding and she was crying, “Mommy, you hit me! Why did you hit me with the car?”
Hopefully, you cannot imagine how immediate and completely consuming the guilt is when you injure your own child like this. Thank God for my neighbors who held me while I screamed and cried and for the ones who tended to my daughter while I couldn’t as we waited for the ambulance to arrive.
I had heard stories like this before. But this is the kind of thing that happens to OTHER people, not me. Or so I thought. Safety is paramount in the way I live my life and raise my children. I wasn’t sure exactly what kind of people this happened to, but I was sure it would never happen to me.
The irony is that many things I did in the name of safety contributed to the incident. That day as I backed out of my driveway I was using caution and going slowly. That allowed Kate to get from the house to my car and behind it. (Of course I’m not suggesting backing up quickly!) I had told her that I was leaving so that she would know where I was. That gave Kate the opportunity to decide after I left the house that she wanted to go with me. After walking a neighbor’s daughter home to be sure she was safe I had inadvertently left the front door unlocked. That meant Kate could run easily out the door. I had parked my car at the top of the driveway so that as my children rode bikes earlier that afternoon they couldn’t ride out into the street and cars could not come into the driveway. That necessitated me reversing out of the driveway rather than turning around at the bottom as I usually do. None of the things I did in the name of safety were wrong, but they were part of the scenario that created the accident.
After being rushed to the ER in the ambulance on a back board and in a neck brace, undergoing an entire work-up by the trauma team including full body x-rays, it was determined that Kate escaped this incident with nothing more than abrasions to her face, shoulder, arm and legs. It looked much worse than it was. Later my neighbor recounted what she saw and told me that Kate had been struck by the right-rear corner of the car and was knocked to the ground directly behind the tire. A few more inches would have meant a very different outcome, a thought that continues to haunt me on a daily basis. While Kate’s physical injuries have long since healed, my emotional injuries continue to plague me every day.
I knew that night in the hospital that I had to take this incident and make something positive come of it. That is why I am sharing this with you--so that you will never, ever think that this kind of thing is what happens to OTHER people. It can so easily happen to you.
Over the past several months I have come to realize what really created the incident. I had assumed that my child knew not to run behind a moving car. Thinking I was keeping her safe, I spent all my time holding her hand in parking lots and never gave her any skills or knowledge of how to behave around cars. I had assumed that because there was an adult in the house that she was safe. I always kept the door locked and never warned her of the dangers of going out of the house without an adult.
Most importantly though, I had assumed that because there were no children behind my car when I got into it that this was still the case when I began to move. I cannot stress enough the importance of checking your surroundings before getting into the car and CONTINUING TO MONITOR YOUR SURROUNDINGS. As you buckle up, start your car, and perhaps wait for your children to buckle, you should be continuing to monitor the area around your car with all three of your mirrors and by turning around and looking behind you and alongside your car. With every vehicle, not just with SUV’s, there is a large box behind the vehicle that is completely blind*. What happened to me that day is that my daughter entered the box behind my car after I got into the driver’s seat while I wasn’t looking.
I have been told by the experts that in relation to what happened in our driveway, the word “accident” does not apply, that in fact, every injury like this is preventable. I have spent a great deal of time researching and learning about preventing driveway injuries since my daughter was hurt. It is said that, “redundant layers of safety” is the best approach to ensure your child’s safety. Bumper sensors, reverse cameras and other technology are excellent tools but should be used in conjunction with other things such as educating your children to stay away from moving vehicles and proper supervision. Nothing replaces vigilance. Always know where your children are at all times and do not make assumptions about their behavior. Children are unpredictable.
The statistics show that it is most often children between the ages of 1 and 3 years old who are injured in their driveways. But I must warn you, even if you do not have children in this age group, you are still at risk for hitting a child when reversing. If a neighbor’s child chases a ball into your driveway, if a younger sibling at a soccer game runs behind your car, if a toddler breaks free from his or her mother in the grocery store parking lot, what happened to me could happen to you!
One of my biggest fears after this happened was that I would be judged harshly by people who heard the story. Luckily that was not the case at all. While I realize that I risk being judged by telling my story publicly, I am choosing to do so for the sake of perhaps saving another child’s life. I am asking you to please always think of Kate when you put your car into reverse. Never, ever assume that this could not happen to you.
*To see the measurements of blind spots for many models of cars you can Google: Consumer Reports Blind Spots. You will find an article from the October 2005 issue and on the left side you can click on “Blind Spot Measurements” to see how your car fares. If you would like to learn more about preventing driveway accidents you can also go to KidsandCars.org.