Big Vehicle Blind Spots Leaving Kids Dead

Jan. 1, 2003 -- Dr. Greg Gulbransen tells the painful story of his son's death for one reason — he doesn't want other parents to make the same tragic mistake he did.

Gulbransen, a Long Island pediatrician, accidentally backed over his 2-year-old son, Cameron, with his SUV in his driveway in October 2002. The little boy died.

"Never saw him," said Gulbransen. "Never had a chance of seeing him. Apparently he had gotten out of the house, opened up both doors and got out to the driveway. I rode right over him."

Now he wants other parents to know about how potentially dangerous the driver's blind spot is when children are in the area, and motorists are backing up.

"I backed over my own child. And I did it. And the only reason why I want to talk about it is because I don't want someone else to back over their child," he said. "Because it's going to happen again."

At Least 60 Similar Deaths

There were four accidental deaths involving back overs during the month of December alone. A 23-month-old boy was backed over in South Bend, Ind. Then another child was seriously injured after being backed over by a mini-van in the Boston area.

Those tragic accidents were followed by a deadly one near El Paso, Texas, where a father accidentally hit and killed his 20-month-old son while backing up his pick-up. A 4-year-old girl was also killed near St Louis under nearly identical circumstances.

"It doesn't get much worse than this as far as incidents that we deal with, and I can only imagine what they're going through," said Granite City, Mo., Police Chief Dave Rebhausen.

Janette Fennell, an auto safety advocate and mother, has seen such accidents again and again. The government does not track such accidents but Fennell does, from her home in Kansas City, Kan., as founder and president of Kids & Cars. She says at least 61 children have been killed this year in blind spot, back-over accidents.

"I mean this is very, very serious and little kids do not have to die this way," Fennell said.

Fennell calls the back-over accidents "the Bye Bye Syndrome" because the accidents often occur when a child unexpectedly darts out to say goodbye. The blind spot tragedies are compounded by the fact that the driver is often the child's own parent.

"These are not bad parents," Fennell said. "These are not people that don't care and love their children; but kids are very unpredictable."

What's more, Fennell believes the blind spot problem is growing, right along with the size of some vehicles.

Big Vehicles, Big Blind Spots

"Everyone is driving the mini-van, the SUV, the pickup truck, the crossover — and they're higher, they're bigger and you can't see behind them," Fennell said.

David Champion of Consumer Reports magazine agrees size matters in back-over accidents.

"The larger the vehicle, the bigger the blind spot," Champion said. "It also changes for the height of the person, the smaller the person, the bigger the blind spot around the vehicle."

Consumer Reports has begun measuring the blind spot on vehicles they test drive. They demonstrated for Good Morning America how difficult it would be for a short driver to see a traffic cone — the height of a toddler — when that driver sat behind the wheel of four different vehicles, chosen at random.

The Consumer Reports demonstration revealed a yellow danger zone for a small child, as a result of blind spots that drivers would encounter while backing up in the vehicles.

"Some of the vehicles that we've measured have huge blind spots behind them, much more than we'd ever thought," Champion said.

The ABC affiliate in Boston, WCVB, ran a similar experiment, demonstrating that not one child, but a whopping 17, were not visible when standing in the blind spot of one vehicle.

High-Tech Fixes on the Market

Safety advocates say one way to prevent such accidents is to get out of your car and look behind it before pulling out, and be aware as you back up that you do have a blind spot.

Automakers may already have the technology to address the rear view blind spot problem. For example, the 2003 Acura MDX provides a fisheye camera that allows drivers to see what is going on behind their vehicles. Currently, the technology is only available in a few high-dollar vehicles.

Cameras or radar-type warning devices are becoming more widely available as options from car makers or from after-market companies. They do cost from a few hundred dollars up to nearly $1,000.

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is planning to introduce legislation this week that would require the government to start keeping track of non-traffic non crash incidents, such as driveway back-over accidents.

The bill would also require auto regulators to evaluate new technologies such as rearview cameras and sensors that may help prevent these accidents.

Since the loss of his son, Gulbransen has installed a rearview camera on his SUV, and has made it his mission to warn parents — and anyone else who will listen — about the dangers of blind spots.

"I'm doing this for Cameron," Gulbransen said. "I'm doing this for all the Camerons that are out there. Just learn from what happened here. It's so devastating, yet it's simple to fix."

To find out more about child safety around cars, go to