SALT LAKE CITY — In the fall of 2014, the Petersen family was preparing for a trip when a last-minute errand turned to tragedy after a young daughter wandered behind Chad Petersen's car as it was backing out of the driveway.
Petersen, of Washington County, had asked his 2-year-old daughter, Natalie, to go inside. He and his wife, Jennifer, watched their daughter ride her bike back into the garage. Petersen planned to take care of last-minute work before taking his wife and five children on a trip to Disneyland. While the Petersens had seen Natalie return indoors, neither had noticed her come back out moments later. As Chad Petersen left the driveway, he checked his mirrors and backup cameras, but never saw Natalie in the perfect blind spot between the mirrors and the camera. Jennifer Petersen tried to stop him the moment she heard her daughter, but it was too late.
The Petersens shared their tragic story during a driver awareness event Monday morning supported by Primary Children's Hospital. It was their hope that Natalie's story could help illustrate the need for better safety precautions.
"Every Wednesday we relive that day," Jennifer Petersen said. "Her favorite color was pink, so on Wednesdays we would all wear pink and we would go around trying to do anything good there was that we could find."
Jennifer Petersen said their effort to remember Natalie spawned a weekly tradition of service, which eventually led them to advocating for child safety through the Spot the Tot campaign. The campaign focuses on promoting vehicle safety and adding awareness to the simple steps for avoiding backover accidents like the one that killed Natalie.
"It can happen to anybody and has happened to lots of different people, especially people that try to take the precautionary measures that we have with the backup camera," Jennifer Petersen said. "If we had just taken the additional 10 seconds to walk around the back of the vehicle, it would have made a world of difference."
Chad Petersen said his family had learned not to rely solely on vehicle safety systems.
"They are great and are wonderful to have in place, but nothing replaces the human eye," he said.
People tend to add to the risk of a similar accident when they are distracted by phones or fumbling for keys when they walk to their car.
"Many of us do this, but the problem is it makes us unaware of what is happening around our vehicles," said Jessica Strong, community benefit and outreach manager for Primary Children's Hospital.
As a result, Strong noted, nearly 600 children in the U.S. died in the last five years due to backover injuries.
"In Utah, a backover injury happens once every seven days," she said.
According to information from Primary Children's Hospital, the most common victims are 1-year-olds and a parent or guardian is most often behind the wheel.
Strong recommended placing a Spot the Tot sticker on the inside of the driver's side window as a reminder when getting into a car to follow simple safety checks before backing out of a driveway.
The Spot the Tot campaign promotes a three-step process:
• Walk around the vehicle and check for hazards before getting in
• After getting into the vehicle, roll down the windows to listen for hazards
• Eliminate distractions like conversations and listening to the radio
Strong said people should use those techniques in combination with their vehicle safety features to increase safety.
All drivers, Strong said, should use those steps even if they don't have children.
Jennifer and Chad Petersen practice the safety tips religiously to keep their five children safe.
"It's not about where you think your kids are, it's about where you know they are," Chad Petersen said.