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Turning Tragedy Into a Cause

Kids and Cars Don't Mix

Cars and Curious Kids a Dangerous Combination continued...

Struttman has dedicated her life to changing laws to discourage parents from leaving their children unattended in cars. The parents of the children in the Missouri van that killed her son were not charged or even given a ticket. Struttman effectively lobbied to change Missouri's law last year, and now is working to get other states to do the same.

"I don't understand, why would you take that unnecessary risk? Most people will not leave their handbags or cell phones in their cars, but they will leave their children," says Struttman, who co-founded Kids 'N Cars with Janette Fennell, of San Francisco, to spread the word. "Their handbags and cell phones are totally replaceable, but their children are not."

Cars Not a Playground

A survey conducted last year by the National Safe Kids Campaign found that 10% of parents believe young children can be left unattended in cars. Only 50% of parents reported always locking their cars at home. One out of five parents rarely or never does so.

"It's just a wrong perception," says Heather Paul, PhD, executive director of the campaign, which was founded to prevent unintentional childhood injury. "The car should always be locked, and the remote should not be accessible. One might jump into the front seat and play mom or dad and turn the key. It's just redoing the whole notion of how cars function for children. They're not a playground."

Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death among children aged 1 to 21, the CDC reports. Motor vehicles are the major cause of fatal injuries for children, but that doesn't mean that only those in the car are in danger. In 1998, more than 20,000 children aged 15 and younger were involved in pedestrian injuries with motor vehicles. More than 500 died as a result. About one-fifth of the fatal accidents occurred in driveways and other nonpublic roads.

Dennis Bensard, MD, conducted a 6-year review of children's injuries after treating a number of children, crushed by cars in their own driveways. The study, published in the November 1998 issue of the Journal of Pediatric Surgery, found that children aged 5 and younger were 10 times more likely to be fatally injured in their driveways than in any other pediatric pedestrian accidents.

"There were kids who had gotten in the car and had disengaged the transmission and jumped out, or were knocked out by a sibling. ... We've seen all situations," says Bensard, associate professor of surgery and pediatrics at University of Colorado Health Sciences Center and director of trauma at the Children's Hospital, in Denver. "Auto pedestrian accidents are one of the most common mechanisms of injury in children."

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