Non-crash car accident child deaths must end

by Jim Adler

Enough is enough. Too many children have died when parents or guardians left them unattended in cars. As summer’s heat rises, such neglect, in effect, is a death sentence. Wake up, America, and don’t ever leave small children behind in a hot vehicle, which one emergency physician says is like “leaving your child in a lit oven.”

Besides protecting the child’s life, you may be helping your own. Increasingly, parents are being arrested and charged with such offenses as child abuse, child neglect or child endangerment. The last can be a felony leading to a jail sentence. Was it worth it to leave the child alone while you went inside a store for some cigarettes?

A child locked inside a car — even with the windows cracked — can perish in minutes on an especially hot day. And even if heat isn’t a factor, an unattended child can harm himself or herself in a vehicle, or can leave the car and wander off.

Children left alone in cars also can be subject to carbon monoxide poisoning, or can be taken by a stranger. There is simply no good reason for leaving a child alone in a parked car.

Often this happens because adults forget. They don’t knowingly leaving their child behind. They just lose track of the fact that the child is there, often because small children tend to be in the back seat — hopefully secured in a protective booster seat. But forgetfulness is no excuse for what can be a fatal lapse in attention and judgment.

With summer temps often topping 100 in some states, the harsh fact is that hyperthermia, or heat-stroke, is the No. 1 cause of child death in non-crash car accidents, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The NHTSA estimates that 262 children under age 14 will die this year and 115,000 will be injured in non-crash car accidents, such as hyperthermia in a closed car on a hot day. Of those, according to KidsInCars.org, as many as 133 children are killed each year in America due to being left alone inside a car.

Ronald Medford, the NSTSA’s Acting Deputy Administrator, says it only takes 10 minutes for a child to die when left in a closed car on a hot day, even if the windows are slightly rolled down. In other words, there’s very little margin for error, so don’t even start the clock ticking. Take the child with you.

Even if it’s only 80 degrees outside, a car with its windows up can quickly become as hot as 130 degrees. Heat enters via the car’s glass windows, but can’t escape via ventilation, creating a “greenhouse” effect.

Jim S. Adler & Associates asks citizens and businesses everywhere to be aware of this problem and to post signs reminding drivers not to leave small children alone in a car.

A supporter of the Safe Kids organization and a member of the Joint City County Commission on Children in Houston and Harris County, longtime personal injury lawyer Jim Adler — now a first-time granddad — is keenly intent on protecting little ones from such dangerous neglect.

A reminder: If you have children or are responsible for them, always look around the car, including the backseat, whenever you leave it. That’s like double checking to ensure you’ve turned the lights off before leaving home — only far more important. It can’t hurt, and it can only help.

And here’s a tip: If you’re taking a child to drop off him or her at daycare or elsewhere on the way to work, leave something vital for work, such as a briefcase, in the backseat of the car with the young one. That way, even if you forget and drive straight to the office, you can’t help but discover that you still have a child in the car.

Another way of handling this is to place items directly relating to the child in the front seat — say, a diaper bag, a toy or a lunch box. This, too, will help remind you that you have precious cargo on board that must not — cannot — be forgotten.

Also, when a child is with you, try to use drive-through services at banks, pharmacies or dry cleaners whenever possible, thus eliminating the need to remove the child in order to run an errand.

On the other hand, if you notice someone else’s child left alone in a car, call 911 or alert the police immediately.

With such awareness and vigilance, with more attention and resolve, together we can make a difference. Together, we can save the lives of young innocents who should not be left alone in cars — anywhere, at any time, and for any reason.

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