The type of accident that killed a 2-year-old in her grandparents' Vineland driveway is on the rise, an advocacy group said. Such "frontover" accidents occur in parking lots and driveways when children stand in front of a vehicle's average 6- to 8-foot front blind zone, according to Kids and Cars in Kansas City, Mo., which focuses on preventing such deaths.
Jaelise Rodriguez, 2, died Saturday night in her paternal grandparents' Venus Drive driveway. The driver was her mother, Orialis Andino, of Vineland, family members said.
Police Chief Timothy Codispoti said Monday afternoon that the investigation into the death continues.
"We are looking into all accounts of the accident and interviewing everyone involved," he said. Police are also looking at the vehicle and the surrounding environment, he said.
Adults can be complacent about driveways, and that's a big mistake, said Amber Rollins, director and volunteer manager for Kids and Cars.
"We always tell parents, 'You have got to start thinking about vehicles in driveways and parking lots like you do swimming pools,'" Rollins said. "We all have to be more aware and learn about different dangers. It's not just crashes, there are so many other ways vehicles kill children."
The organization was instrumental in getting a federal law enacted to require safety latches in car trunks so they can be opened from inside. That has ended the danger of suffocation for children playing around cars and getting trapped in trunks, Rollins said.
Kids and Cars also works to raise awareness of the danger of leaving babies and children in hot cars, and successfully lobbied to require automakers to establish a rear visibility standard to prevent "backover" accidents.
She said, however, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not released final regulations for the 2008 law. Kids and Cars has joined a number of advocacy groups that are suing to force the NHTSA to act.
Backovers, in which people backing out of driveways and parking lots hit children they cannot see in the much larger rear blind zone, have gotten most of the publicity, Rollins said. But frontovers are on the rise.
"Frontovers just emerged in the last 10 years or so," Rollins said. Her organization had documented 54 cases of fatal backover accidents so far in the U.S. in 2013, and 54 cases of fatal frontover accidents before the Rodriguez case, she said. Usually the driver is a parent or other relative.
Kids and Cars depends on media reports and reports from citizens to document cases, and it is sure it misses many cases, she said.
She attributed the rise in frontover accidents to the increasing size of SUVs. The taller and bigger the vehicle, the larger the blind zone in both the front and back, she said.
However, the car that Andino was driving was a 2002 Chevy Malibu, police have said.
Smaller cars have a several-foot front blind zone, Rollins said, and visibility was worsened in the Rodriguez driveway because it happened in the dark.
Rollins said the organization has not seen any documentation that frontover or backover accidents are related to cell phone use or texting.
Even the best parents have made tragic, life-altering mistakes, with backover or frontover accidents, or by forgetting their child in a locked hot car, she said.
"Instead of forgetting her baby in the car, she forgot to put her in the car," Rollins speculated about Andino.
She said parents of young children are often sleep-deprived and are most likely to make mistakes when they are doing something outside of their regular routines.
"The most important thing is not to think it won't happen to you . Every time you get in the car, say each child's name and check, check, check," she said. "Check the back seat every single time you get in or leave a car."
She said her organization has a survivor advocacy program to help parents and others deal with the overwhelming guilt they feel. She can help grieving parents get in touch with other families who have experienced similar tragedies, and talk to the only other people who can really understand what they are feeling, she said.