Daily Telegraph - Saturday 21 May 2005

Blind-spot tragedies of 'Mum's taxi'

THEY are big, bulky and not designed with child visibility in mind.

A string of tragedies when 4WDs cross paths with children has put the spotlight on their suitability around schools and playgrounds.

To emphasise just how much care is required when driving a 4WD, The Saturday Daily Telegraph took four popular makes – typical of the off-roaders favoured as Mum's Taxi – and tested just how difficult it is to see a typical six-year old both in front of and behind the vehicles.

Landcruiser 4WD . . . the six-year-old is completely obscured

A year 2000 model Pajero, a new Toyota Landcruiser, a 2005 model Honda MDX and a Lexus RX330 were put to the test, with disturbing results.

Forward vision from all four vehicles, while not great, allowed the head of a child 1m in front of the car to be seen.

From this angle the Honda MDX, and Lexus RX330 were the best, with the Pajero and Landcruiser still reasonable – as long as the driver was paying due attention.

Lexus 4WD . . . what the driver sees of a six-year-old 1m away from the car

The story with vision out the rear – critical when reversing, the most dangerous manoeuvre around children – was alarming.

The Pajero, with the now largely outdated design of spare wheel hanging off the rear, left nothing more than a tuft of hair visible of a child 1m behind the vehicle.

When the child moved behind the spare wheel he was totally invisible to the driver, both out the rear window and from the wing mirrors.

Toyota's Landcruiser was little better, with the top of the child's head visible but only in the gaps between the three rear seat headrests.

Pajero 4WD . . . the top of a six-year-old’s head is just visible 1m behind the car

Again, with the child within a metre or two of the rear, the wing mirrors served nor useful purpose.

In the Honda MDX, even the gap between the headrest was not a saving grace.

With the third row of seats deployed, the five headrests between the driver and the rear window ensured vision out the rear was restricted to the top half of the window.

With the Lexus, the high rear of the car again meant that a small child 1m from the back of the vehicle was invisible to the driver.

However, the Lexus has a feature that should be standard for all vehicles with restricted rear vision – a reversing camera.

Honda 4WD . . . a driver’s view of a six-year-old 1m away from vehicle

The camera is activated as soon as reverse gear is selected and the wide-angle lens set low on the rear of the car displays a panoramic view of anything behind the vehicle on a small screen set in the dash.

Similar systems are starting to appear on other models and can be fitted as after-market to most cars for a few hundred dollars.

It would seem a small price to pay for improving the safety of Australia's greatest national resource, its children.

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