Kids In Cars, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing serious injuries and death resulting from children being left alone in or around cars, was founded by two parents whose 2-year-old son was killed after two toddlers, left unattended in a running vehicle, set it in motion.
As the mother of a toddler, I can’t imagine anything more tragic happening to my son. Yet hundreds of children are killed every year because they were left alone in or around cars. Even for a minute.
Apparently, people leave children unattended in or around vehicles more often than you’d think. Kids In Cars has documented more than 2,000 incidents involving children left alone in or around motor vehicles since 2000. In addition, it is not illegal in many states, including Montana, to leave children unattended in or around vehicles.
Resulting accidents include abduction, heat stroke, hypothermia, setting a vehicle in motion, getting trapped in a trunk and even fatal car crashes.
No federal agency collects information related to deaths and injuries that occur as nontraffic incidents on private property, but Kids In Cars, in conjunction with 4R Kids’ Sake, maintains its own national database by collecting newspaper clips and broadcast stories reporting incidents of children left unattended in or around vehicles.
(As an aside, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that Kids In Cars, because of various limitations, probably undercounts the true number of fatal cases nationwide. Also, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently assessing methods to identify cases of non-traffic motor vehicle-related injuries and deaths.)
According to Kids In Cars, more than 65 percent of the 616 fatalities since 2000 resulted from hot weather or back-over accidents. The temperature inside a car can reach deadly levels within minutes, even with the windows open a little. Heat exhaustion, hyperthermia and even death can occur.
As for backing up, it’s hard for drivers to see small children when they back up. Cross-view mirrors and back-up detection devices can help drivers see the rear of their vehicle.
Here are some tips to help prevent accidents:
Keep vehicles locked at all times – even in the garage or driveway.
Never leave keys within the reach of children.
Teach children to never play in or around vehicles.
Install cross-view mirrors and/or a back-up detection device on your vehicle.
Make sure all young passengers have left your car after it is parked. Remember this slogan: Look, Then Leave.
When a child is missing, check vehicles and trunks immediately.
If a child is locked inside a vehicle, get him or her out as soon as possible, or call 911.
If you see children left unattended in a vehicle, stay with the children until the responsible party returns, or call 911 if they do not return within five minutes (or sooner if you fear the children are in imminent danger).
As for me, I can’t imagine leaving my son alone in the car, or simply forgetting that he was in the car, but I must confess that I don’t always lock every door in my car when it’s parked in the garage. But after reading some of the personal stories on the Kids In Cars Web site (www.kidsincars.org), as well as on the Kids and Cars site (www.kidsandcars.org), I’ll make an effort to do so. It just takes one second for a life-changing accident to happen.
Julie Burk is a health educator with Lewis and Clark County’s Cooperative Health Center.