Higher car bonnets on SUVs risk ‘front-over’ accidents, say campaigners

Image showing older small car and new large car, taken in London 2018.

SUV compared to small Fiat 500, London 2018.  © Richard Baker

British drivers and parents should beware of ‘front-over’ accidents to toddlers caused by the blind zones in front of the high bonnets of 4×4 vehicles, American campaigners have warned.

“The bigger the vehicle, the bigger the blind zone,” said Amber Rollins, of US car-safety campaign Kids and Cars. “You can’t avoid hitting what you can’t see.”

“We brought out my son’s pre-school class. We wanted to see how many kids we could line up sitting in front of one these vehicles,” said Rollins. “We got up to 17.”

Very young child playing in front of massive SUV
Very young child playing in front of large SUV. Image courtesy of Kids and Cars.

Kids and Cars term the incidents ‘front-overs’, to distinguish them from ‘back-overs’, where a slow-moving car reverses into pedestrians. “We’re seeing thousands of children being hurt or killed every year in front-overs,” said Rollins. “On a weekly basis here in the US at least 60 children are run over in a front-over accident. On average two of them die and 58 are seriously injured.”

To test the claims of Kids and Cars, PA Diploma News measured how far a traffic cone the height of a toddler (74cm) had to be moved away from the front of a car, in order for a woman of average height (5’4”) to spot the top of the cone, and compared the results with a similar study done in America.

Image comparing the blind zones in front of various car models.
Comparing front blind zones of various car models. Source: PA Diploma News and WTHR.

We found that American car designs had significantly bigger blind spots than models widely available in the UK, such the Nissan Qashqai. The angle and length of the bonnet significantly affected visibility, with the front blind zone of the Volkswagen Touareg being one-third larger than the that of a Qashqai. Some of these American models, such as the Cadillac Escalade, are occasionally available to buy in the UK.  

Rollins warns that such models could become the norm in the UK, as they have in the US. “They’re trendy. I live out in the suburbs, all the dads are driving in these giant trucks, they don’t need this big truck that you would expect to find out in rural areas where they need the truck for hauling stuff.”

One-in-four of all new cars sold in the UK is now an SUV or 4×4 vehicle. Over the last decade the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders reported a 260% increase in the number of sales of what it calls ‘dual purpose’ cars, such as Range Rovers, from 156,552 in 2010 to 562,360 in 2019.

BMW said, “We consider issues such as those highlighted in this report during the design process of our vehicles and all models conform to legal standards. Many BMW models offer features to further enhance pedestrian safety. Examples include front cameras and proximity sensors which are available during low speed manoeuvres.” Other car manufacturers did not respond to a request for comment.

Kids and Cars began its mission to improve car safety when its founder Janette Fennell and her husband were robbed at gunpoint outside their home in 1995. The attackers locked them in the boot of their own car, leaving their 9-month-old child in the back seat, and drove off in a different vehicle, leaving them trapped for hours. After their eventual release, Fennell began campaigning for mandatory luminous emergency release levers inside car boots.

Fennell collected her own data, finding that 1,082 Americans had been trapped in a car boot over the preceding 20 years, either children locking themselves in accidentally, or kidnap victims. In one in four cases the victims died of suffocation, heatstroke or hypothermia.

Kids and Cars eventually won that campaign in 2001. This success led to other car-safety campaigns on the dangers of suffocation from power-assisted windows, carbon monoxide poisoning and hot car deaths.

As deaths and injuries caused by cars in driveways and car parks are not recorded in official statistics, the group began collecting data from media reports. They found that in America non-traffic accidents involving cars, including front-overs, “is likely in the top 5 killers of very young children in our country,” according to Rollins. Similar data is not collected in the UK.

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