SUVs are big vehicles. And they have big blind spots as well.
At least 91 children were killed last year by vehicles, many of them SUVs, that backed over the young victims. That's according to a troubling report from the advocate group Kids and Cars.
A bill in Congress aimed at reducing these numbers is named after 2-year-old Cameron Gulbransen who died when his father accidentally backed over him with his SUV. It was about two years ago when the accident happened.
On Wednesday, Dr. Greg Gulbransen described the nightmare on The Early Show.
"My wife and I had returned home one evening," Dr, Gulbransen said. "It was a Saturday evening and we'd gone in the house. Our two children were asleep with the baby-sitter. My wife was inside. I stepped back outside temporarily to move the car - it was an SUV- from the street back into the driveway.
"My children were inside. The door was closed. While I was doing that, my 2-year-old son woke up and inadvertently got out of the house. As I was backing up the vehicle from the street into the driveway, I ran right over him. I did not see him. I did use rearview mirrors. I remember vividly, I looked out the rear window, backed in and felt that bump and looked out and saw that I'd run over him. And he died of massive head injuries."
Dr. Gulbransen, who is a pediatrician, knew right away there was not much that could be done.
"I did my best," he said. "I did call for help. I knew it was too late. I just knew that this was something that was senseless, so easy to avoid. I did my best as a father and pediatrician. I don't want anyone else to go through this. It was difficult."
So Dr. Gulbransen enlisted the help of Congressman Peter King (R-N.Y.), who on Dec. 8, 2003, introduced the Cameron Gulbransen Kids and Cars Safety Act of 2003 to alleviate some of these unnecessary deaths.
"I give him credit for taking a terrible tragedy and pulling it into something positive," said King about Gulbransen. "The bill itself would require the Department of Transportation to keep records on how often this happens and to test and monitor equipment, such as sensory devices, video cameras, both of which would work dramatically to help to eliminate this from ever happening again."
A conference committee of House and Senate members is currently considering requiring the safety measures as part of the final transportation bill that will go to the president.
The Senate-approved Safe and Flexible Transportation Efficiency Act of 2004 (SAFETEA) included provisions requiring the federal government to: collect data on non-traffic, non-crash incidents; issue a safety standard that requires child-safe; and to evaluate backup warning devices to see which are most effective in detecting small children behind vehicles. The House version of the transportation bill does not include any of these safety provisions.
The Cameron Gulbransen Kids and Cars Safety Act is attached to the transportation bill, stalled in committee, Rep. King explained. "While it did not make it through the House, it made it through the Senate. Right now, it's in a conference committee and it's part of the transportation bill. If we can get it out of the conference committee, and a handful of people are debating this and negotiating this, it would come back to the House, to the Senate as part of the overall transportation bill and would pass.
"So right now," the legislator said, "we're using all our records to get the conferees on this bill to approve it. I talk to people and hear everybody says, 'For the grace of God that could have been me.' Think how many times for a moment your child is out of your sight. That's what we're talking about here."
Dr. Gulbransen points out the blind spots on some SUVs range from 20 to 80 feet. "Depends on the height of the driver and the type of vehicle you're discussing," he said. "SUVs have such large blind spots and they're obviously here to stay. We're all hooked on these things as families for certain features that they have."
But he added that it's a problem that can be solved. He said, "I think it's important for everybody, from the government down to the automobile manufacturers, the dealerships and, you know, families and drivers themselves, we have to all step in and take responsibility and realize that we can address this situation.
"It's easy to take care of. This happened to me. It shouldn't happen to anyone else," he said. "It's happened twice on Long Island in the last 12 weeks here. It's ridiculous. It shouldn't be. It's usually an SUV, driven by a parent, and it involves a small child. If you had a camera, it would certainly eliminate this."
Congressman King said there are different technologies available to eliminate the problem, but he has found resistance from the automotive industry.
"The auto manufacturers do not want it," he said. "Ironically, they do have it in the European cars, not in the cars that are made for American consumption. We have to put pressure on the auto manufacturers. I believe once people find out about this, they'll implore their congressmen and senators to vote for it. It's essential."
The bill includes the following regulations.
- Evaluation of devices and technology to reduce child injury and death from parked or unattended motor vehicles.
- Creation of a database for tracking the number and types of injuries and deaths in non-traffic, non-crash events.
- Evaluation of motor vehicle back-over prevention technology.
- Requirement that backup detection devices be part of motor vehicle safety standards
- Adoption of motor vehicle safety standards for power windows and power sunroofs.