This is a bigger problem than you realize. And a few simple changes and simple habits can help minimize the risk.
What is the problem?
- In the U.S. at least fifty children are being backed over by vehicles EVERY week. Two are killed. 70% of the time the driver is a parent or close relative.
- Front-over fatalities are on the rise. These children lose their lives because they could not be seen by the driver in the blind-zone in front of a vehicle that was moving forward very slowly.
- 38 children die in hot cars each year from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside motor vehicles. Busy parents, much like you, outside their routines have often made the mistakes that lead to these tragedies. 20% of stolen cars have the keys in them, and many have a child inside.
- 1000 children are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries related to power windows each year.
- The under reported count is 6 children die each year when they get themselves trapped in a car trunk.
- Each year hundreds of children are hospitalized or even killed after accidentally setting a car into motion.
- 70% of car safety seats are installed incorrectly,and improper child safety seat use is one of the top causes for child disability and death.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning of children in cars is surprisingly easy.
- 1900 teenagers are killed in car accidents where underage drinking is a factor every year.
I am not big on passing another law to fix a problem. The well meaning KidsAndCars.org advocates law and regulation changes as well as educating the public in their bid to reduce these problems. I have a problem with top down solutions. They tend to be brittle, that is they break down in unanticipated ways. And they tend to stand in the way of better improvements that can do a better job.
But when you are faced with the above statistics, you understand where they are coming from. If I could influence the rule making, I would urge results based rules. Don’t mandate seatbelts, mandate crash safety. Don’t mandate rear facing cameras, mandate reduced blind spots.
I am in favor of measurement. Whatever is measured, improves over time. Focus attention on the problems so clever people are aware and try and fix them. Focus attention on current solutions so more people will use them, and new solutions know what they have to improve on.
What are the changes that can reduce these dangers?
- Never leave children alone in or around cars; not even for a minute.
- Put something you’ll need like your cell phone, handbag, employee ID or brief case, etc., on the floor board in the back seat, so you have another reason to look there before leaving your vehicle.
- Get in the habit of always opening the back door of your vehicle every time you reach your destination to make sure no child has been left behind. This will soon become a habit. KidsAndCars.org calls this the “Look Before You Lock” campaign.
- Keep a large stuffed animal in the child’s car seat when it’s not occupied. When the child is placed in the seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat. It’s a visual reminder that anytime the stuffed animal is up front you know the child is in the back seat in a child safety seat.
- Make arrangements with your child’s day care center or babysitter that you will always call if your child will not be there on a particular day as scheduled. This is common courtesy and sets a good example that everyone who is involved in the care of your child is informed of their whereabouts on a daily basis. Ask them to phone you if your child doesn’t show up when expected. Many children’s lives could have been saved with a telephone call from a concerned child care provider. Give child care providers all your telephone numbers, including that of an extra family member or friend, so they can always confirm the whereabouts of your child.
- Use drive-thru services when available. (restaurants, banks, pharmacies, dry cleaners, etc.)
- Use your debit or credit card to pay for gas at the pump.
- Walk around and behind a vehicle prior to moving it.
- Know where your kids are. Make children move away from your vehicle to a place where they are in full view before moving the car and know that another adult is properly supervising children before moving your vehicle.
- Teach children that “parked” vehicles might move. Let them know that they can see the vehicle; but the driver might not be able to see them.
- Consider installing cross view mirrors, audible collision detectors, rear view video camera and/or some type of back up detection device and/or some type of front sensor detection device.
- Measure the size of your blind zone (area) behind the vehicle(s) you drive. A 5-foot-1-inch driver in a pickup truck can have a rear blind zone of approximately 8 feet wide by 50 feet long.
- Measure the size of your blind zone (area) in front of the vehicle(s) you drive. Many drivers cannot see a young child 6-8 feet in front of larger vehicles.
- Be aware that steep inclines and large SUV’s, vans and trucks add to the difficulty of seeing behind a vehicle.
- Hold children’s hand when leaving the vehicle.
- Teach your children to never play in, around or behind a vehicle and always set the emergency brake.
- Keep toys and other sports equipment off the driveway.
- Homeowners should trim landscaping around the driveway to ensure they can see the sidewalk, street and pedestrians clearly when backing out of their driveway. Pedestrians also need to be able to see a vehicle pulling out of the driveway.
- Never leave children alone in or around cars; not even for a minute.
- Keep vehicles locked at all times; even in the garage or driveway.
- Keys and/or remote openers should never be left within reach of children.
- Make sure all child passengers have left the car after it is parked.
- Be especially careful about keeping children safe in and around cars during busy times, schedule changes and periods of crisis or holidays.
- Cars parked in direct sunlight can reach internal temperatures of 131˚F – 172˚F, even after only 15 minutes in the sun. Younger children are more sensitive to heat than older children and adults and are at greater risk for heat stroke. The combination of high temperature, humidity and poor ventilation all contribute to the extreme danger of locked cars and car trunks.
- Unintentional trunk entrapment can occur during children’s games or exploration, so teach kids not to play in or around cars.
- Install a Quick-Out Emergency Trunk Release on cars built before 2002 or otherwise don’t have an emergency release.
- Make sure all car seat straps are tight, secure, and fastened.
- Use the Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH) feature of your car if available and reduce the risk of strangulation.
Use the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) locator to find a child safety seat inspection station nearest you. Certified technicians will inspect your child safety seat and show you how to correctly install and use it.
- For infant car seats up to age one, children should remain rear facing.
- Car seats for children age 1-4 or weight 20 to 40 lbs, use the convertible or combination seat facing forward.
- When children are between 4 and 8 and weigh between 40 and 80 pounds, use a booster seat so the seat belt strap crosses over the chest, and the lap belt lays over the upper thighs.
- Understand that snow clogging a tail pipe can drive carbon monoxide into a car. And that exhaust fumes can poison people riding in the backs of pickup trucks.
- For young drivers, having passengers greatly increases risk of an auto accidents. Driving at night is a risk factor for all drivers, but especially for young drivers.