NEW BRAUNFELS, Texas — According to statistics kept by the website www.kidsandcars.org, dozens of young children die in America each year after being left in a hot car.
On Monday, the nation recorded its first such death of 2011: a 6-month-old infant passed away after being forgotten in a car at a workplace in New Braunfels, Texas. 2010 saw 49 deaths attributed to child vehicular heat stroke – the most ever – with Texas leading the nation with 13 of those.
Kids and Cars has become a powerful voice for increased safety measures relating to kids and cars and maintains a national database on injuries and deaths that occur to children as a result of nontraffic, noncrash incidents.
The list of individuals who have accidentally left their children in a car to die includes college professors, counselors, even a rocket scientist, said Janette Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Cars.
“Because your kids are so important, you don’t think you could ever do it. The worst mistake you can make is to think it can’t happen to you,” Fennell said.
“We work with many parents who have gone through this. If we can talk to the family, we will put them in touch with the only people on earth who understand what they’re going through.”
In 2009, Fennell was asked to address the Commerce and Energy Committee on Capitol Hill in an effort to get increased seatbelt reminders in vehicles.
Fennell recommends families keep a teddy bear in their child’s car seat. When they put the child in the car seat, transfer the teddy bear into the front passenger side as a reminder that there’s a baby on board.
Other measures that can help include putting some work essential, such as a brief case, identity badge or lunch, on the floorboard by the child’s car seat.
“Look before you lock,” she said.
A final measure would be to have a policy with the childcare provider that if the baby doesn’t get delivered as expected, that the parent will call if there’s a reason — and to provide a list of numbers to call if the baby isn’t brought in.
“If you have all those things in place, the likelihood of a child being forgotten will be very, very slim,” she said.
Front passenger airbags and their danger to children have prompted government regulation ordering parents to put child safety seats in the back seat. But out of sight, out of mind can become tragedy for parents distracted by modern multi-tasking, said Michele Terry, a Maypearl woman whose husband forgot their baby girl Mica in the car in 2005.
After dropping their older child off at her daycare, he got a phone call about a prospective job and he got distracted from his task of transporting the sleeping infant in the back seat.
“There were a lot of deterrents, there were a lot of distractions, there were changes in routine,” Terry said.
Every October, the Terrys host a country music event in Maypearl in Mica’s memory, to raise funds for Kids and Cars.
“We’d like a child reminder system — this needs to be a safety feature in all family sedans. A safety feature that says I left my keys in the car, that’s nice — but the fact that there’s still someone in the back is more important than my keys,” she said.
Reprinted from the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung with permission.