April 2, 2006 in Nation/World

Grieving mother pushing for car backup monitors

Patty Pensa South Florida Sun-Sentinel

WEST BOCA, Fla. – The morning was still, quiet, perfect for a stroll. And, boy, did 2-year-old Veronica Rosenfeld love to stroll.

Then it happened, quickly, without warning.

“Out of nowhere, he backed out,” said her mom, Arden Rosenfeld. “The next thing I saw was my child under the car.”

It was a year ago this week when the Rosenfelds’ 73-year-old neighbor pulled his Lincoln Town Car out of his driveway, striking Veronica, who was only five feet ahead of her mom, never out of view. She died at the hospital.

Rosenfeld sits still on a couch in her spacious home. Her voice is steady as she retells the worst day of her life, the story broken by quick, heavy sighs.

Instead of being consumed by her tragedy, Rosenfeld stands at the forefront of a movement to make backup sensors or cameras as common as seat belts. Advocates say the need for such devices has grown with the super-sizing of SUVs and trucks.

Nationwide, more than 100 children died last year after being hit by vehicles as they backed up. Legislation in Congress aims to prevent these accidents by requiring devices that alert drivers when someone is behind their vehicles.

Cameras and sensors already are offered on some new models, but it would be up to the U.S. Department of Transportation to decide what should be the norm.

“I can’t imagine why anyone would stop this,” Rosenfeld said.

On March 9, a day after what would have been Veronica’s third birthday, Rosenfeld traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby alongside the founder and president of Kids and Cars, a nonprofit group based in Kansas.

The group gained momentum last year when President Bush signed a law directing the Transportation Department to start collecting data on these accidents. The department also was told to study backup safety technology.

“Those were significant strides forward,” said Janette Fennell, Kids and Cars president. “But that was just laying the groundwork.”

While the fate of the latest legislation is uncertain, advocates are encouraged by its bipartisan support. Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, and John Sununu, R-New Hampshire, are co-sponsors. If passed, it would give automakers three years to make the safety devices standard.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents nine automakers, opposes the legislation. Eron Shosteck, director of safety communications for the trade association, said backup sensors are reliable only with inanimate objects such as curbs and light poles. Cameras, he said, are expensive.

“The technology is available to consumers who want it,” he said. “Many consumers do not want to be compelled to pay for technology they don’t need.”

If mass produced, the devices would drop in price, advocates say. U.S. Rep Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla., is backing the bill.

“I can’t imagine what would be more important than trying to avoid entirely preventable accidents,” she said.

For Rosenfeld, nothing would have been more important. The memory of wiping blood from her daughter’s face cuts deep. There is no way to let go. She was a running, jumping, squealing little girl. Blond hair bouncy, blue eyes bright. Upstairs, in Veronica’s room, a pink blanket bearing her name rests on a rocking chair. The sheets in her crib are the same as on the last day she slept there.

They were never washed.

“I have a hole in my heart,” Rosenfeld said.

“My life was Veronica. She was my world. When she was gone, what was I going to do? I don’t want my daughter’s life to be for nothing.”

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