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Group Warns of Kid-Car Dangers

Copyright 2002, The Associated Press

May 23, 2002

BETHESDA, Md. -- Children left alone in or near cars -- even for that lightning-fast run into the drugstore -- are in danger of being kidnapped, suffocated, run over or harmed by other threats, says a group pushing to make such inattendance by adults illegal.

The San Francisco-based nonprofit organization Kids 'N Cars has documented at least 530 cases between 1990 and 2001 of children dying because they were left unattended in or around vehicles.

Often the culprit is an otherwise attentive, loving parent who unwittingly puts their own convenience above their child's safety, said organization co-founder Terrill Struttmann of Washington, Mo.

Struttman's 2-year-old son was killed and his wife seriously injured in 1998, when young children in a van knocked it into drive and sent the van speeding into their park bench.

Standing in a strip-mall parking lot in suburban Washington on Thursday, co-founder Janette Fennell pointed to the grocery store, photo processor, dry cleaners, bank and other shops behind her.

"These are places where parents think it's O.K. to pop in just for a minute," she said. "A car is not a toy. A car is not a playground. And a car certainly is not a baby sitter."

Just 11 states now outlaw leaving a child unattended in a car, she said.

The types of incidents the group found most frequently in newspaper clippings, computer searches, local law enforcement and other sources:
  • Heat stroke suffered by children left in cars by forgetful or harried parents. The situation poses many other dangers as well, including suffocation, hypothermia, carjacking, kidnapping and injuring others by engaging the car.

  • Children backed over when the driver -- most often a parent or relative -- could not see them playing behind the vehicle.

  • Strangulation in a power window or sunroof.

  • Entrapment in a car trunk.
The federal government only tracks crashes on public roads; many of these incidents happen in driveways or parking lots, Fennell said.

Kids 'N Cars also seeks federal regulations mandating automotive features such as brake-shift interlocks that would prevent children from engaging a car, rear sensing devices such as mirrors and alarms, and power switches that make it more difficult to close windows.

The group also runs a public awareness campaign to alert parents not to leave children in cars -- "not even for a minute."

On the Net: http://www.kidsncars.org

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