Daily Telegraph - Sunday 23 October 2005

Wallaby's daughter critical

By Sonya Neufeld, Tamara McLean and Paul Carter

THE car accident that left the daughter of former Australia rugby union captain Phil Kearns with life-threatening injuries has reignited demands for upgraded safety on four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Andie Kearns, aged 19 months, remains on a respirator in a critical but stable condition at The Children's Hospital, Sydney, after she was accidentally run over by her father in the driveway of the family home yesterday.

Kearns was reversing his Volkswagen Touareg 4WD at the Mosman house on the Lower North Shore of Sydney when the accident happened.

Andie was doing better than had been hoped, and the family thanked the public for their support, Kearns said in a statement released to the Nine Network.

"My wife and I are overwhelmed, it has been just amazing," Kearns said.
"(Andie) is holding up really well. She had a good 24 hours and is much better than she was yesterday."

Pedestrian Council of Australia (PCA) chairman Harold Scruby meanwhile said the Federal Government should make it compulsory for 4WD vehicles to have reversing cameras fitted.

"People buy (4WDs) thinking they're safe, but they simply are not," Mr Scruby said.

"They're extremely dangerous, lethal even, and you can't see little children below the guard."

Thirty Australian toddlers died each year in driveway accidents, with a further 300 injured, Mr Scruby said.

More than two-thirds of the accidents involved 4WD vehicles, he said.

"Without these vehicles, this wouldn't be such a problem."  Mr Scruby, who lives two doors from the Kearns family, said the incident was a tragedy but a timely reminder.

"No one's blaming Phil Kearns," he said.

"We're simply saying, for God's sake, don't buy these ridiculous tanks."

Reversing cameras, currently fitted in Lexus cars, screen footage from the rear bumper in the rear-vision mirror when the vehicle is in reverse.

Rear-bumper sensors were not sensitive enough to "pick up" small children, and the reverse-beeping mechanism was relatively ineffective with toddlers, Mr Scruby said.

He also called on the Commonwealth to immediately increase the tariff on the vehicles, above the current 5 per cent.

"We welcome anything to discourage people from buying these things," Mr Scruby said.

A spokeswoman for The Children's Hospital said that Andie Kearns was being looked after by a team of paediatric intensive-care specialists, surgeons, an anesthetist and laboratory and imaging staff.

"The minute-to-minute care that she's getting is being delivered by highly specialised nursing staff," she said.

"That's in addition to the fact that her parents are spending an awful lot of time at the hospital."

The girl suffered mainly abdominal injuries when she was struck.

She is the youngest child of the former Wallabies hooker and his wife Julie.

The couple have three other children: Wilson, Finn and Matilda.

Kearns was named in the Wallabies Team of the Decade in August, and is Australia's most-capped hooker, playing 67 tests - 10 as captain - between 1989 and 1999.

He also played in both the 1991 and 1999 World Cup-winning sides.

Prime Minister John Howard said today the Kearns family was in everyone's thoughts and prayers.

"I think all Australians, parents in particular, we feel for Phil and his wife and just hope and pray that the little girl recovers," Mr Howard said.

"We send our good wishes and thoughts and our prayers."

New South Wales coach Ewan McKenzie has sent his best wishes to the Kearns family.

"Obviously wishing them all the best and hopefully everything will pan out all right and there's a speedy recovery," McKenzie said on ABC radio.

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