SUVs: Blind To The Danger

SUV, Sport Utility Vehicle, Gas Guzzler, Gasoline, Fuel, The 1999 Cadillac Escalade, shown in this 1998 photo in Detroit, is Cadillac's first sport utility vehicle AP

Pediatrician, Dr. Greg Gulbransen knows more than most people about child safety. Which is one reason he purchased a big, sturdy Sport Utility Vehicle.

"I bought this car because it was the safest thing to do for my family," he says.

At least that's what Gulbransen thought until, as CBS News Correspondent Jane Clayson reports, he was slowly and carefully backing his car into the garage one night.

"I know I looked in those rearview mirrors," he says. "I know I looked over my shoulder."

He never saw his 2-year-old son, Cameron.

"There he was at the end of the driveway and I knew I just ran him over," he says. "I never saw him.

"There was no way I was going to see that guy, just no way."

Already this year, 57 children have lost their lives the same way. More than half of those accidents involved SUVs or large pick-up trucks -- simply because the bigger the vehicle and the higher the rear window, the bigger the blind spot behind it.

Using orange cones, which are the height of a 2-year-old child, Consumer Reports auto testing director David Champion showed CBS how easily a child can disappear behind an SUV.

When sitting inside an SUV, it's impossible to spot the cones through the rear view mirror, through the side mirrors or through the back.

In a midsize passenger vehicle the average blind spot goes about 10 feet back. In a SUV, it extends to more than 14 feet. And in a pick-up, the so-called "dead zone" doubles to more than 30 feet.

"In most cases, the family sedan or the family station wagon might not have the charisma of an SUV, but it's a lot safer," says Champion

No one knew how many children were dying in these back-over accidents because no federal agency keeps track of them. It took a group of parents to uncover the risk.

Jannette Fennell, who runs the non-profit child safety group Kids 'N Cars, started noticing increasing numbers of back-over accidents three years ago.

"It's only getting bigger and bigger every year," she says. "This is truly an epidemic.

"People want to call it a freak accident and I'm here to tell you that it's not freak and it's not an accident. There are predictable and preventable tragedies."

Car companies won't comment on the accidents, but they are starting to offer sensors on the back bumpers of some new models. But they're not standard equipment and they're never promoted as a safety device. In other words, they may help you avoid the curb, not necessarily your child.

Gulbransen says sensors definitely would have saved his son, Cameron.

"I think about if I had only done it differently, if I'd only had a sensor, if I'd only ... ahh!"

Cameron died in his parents' driveway. Part of a hidden tragedy that's claiming at least one child a week.
  • Jaime Holguin

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