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Turning Tragedy Into a Cause

Kids and Cars Don't Mix

More Laws Protect Dogs Than Kids

Education and prevention are key to reducing the number of pediatric injuries, Bensard says. Legislation may dissuade some people from leaving their children alone with cars, he says, but mostly it is up to parents to use their common sense.

"Sometimes families don't understand the dangers and implications of some of their decisions," Bensard says. "It's just being irresponsible. We all fall into that trap, and have to be better disciplined."

Only 10 states have laws specifically regarding children left unattended in vehicles, yet most have legislation about leaving dogs in hot cars. At Struttman's urging, Illinois State Sen. John Cullerton, a Democrat from Chicago, introduced a bill earlier this year to punish parents for leaving their kids behind.

Most states, like Illinois, have laws regarding child endangerment, but nothing specifically about cars.

"Children are left in cars and are dying. That is something that is so serious, it needs to be addressed," Cullerton says. "We are working to discourage that type of activity."

Struttman also is targeting legislators in Kansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, and California.

"You can't just let [parents] walk away and let them think what they did is OK," Struttman says. "They have to be reprimanded in some way."

Some Pointers on Protecting Your Kids

  • Never leave children alone or unsupervised -- not even for a minute.
  • Never leave car keys where children can find them.
  • Always lock cars so children cannot get into a car unsupervised. Unlocked cars pose serious risks to children who are naturally curious and often lack fear. Keep the doors and trunk of cars locked when parked in the garage, driveway, or near home. Parked cars can be deathtraps for kids.
  • Crawl around in your family vehicle and look at everything from a child's perspective. Where are there potential problems? Do the automatic power windows controls "pull" to go up rather than being "pushed"? Does your vehicle have transmission or brake interlocks?
  • Teach children about the dangers of a car. A car is NOT a toy. In fact it can be as dangerous as a loaded gun, but weighs over two tons.
  • Arm children with facts. They must understand that a vehicle is used for transporting people from place to place; it is NOT a playground.
  • Car trunks become a tempting, secret place to hide, and a quick and easy place for abductors to make children disappear. Practice escape techniques so that if children are trapped in a car trunk, they know how to get out by yanking the tail light wires, kicking out the brake light fixture and signaling for help by waving or banging on the trunk and screaming.
  • If a car has a trunk release in the trunk's interior, make sure the children know how to use it and have them practice.
  • Never leave rear seats folded open. This should prevent children from climbing into unlocked cars and finding their way into a trunk from the inside.
  • Install an inside trunk release.

Kimberly Sanchez is a St. Louis freelance writer who has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Newsday, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Dallas Morning News.

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