Every year, tragedy strikes the most vulnerable among us — small children who are left in the car on a hot or even mildly warm day. Sadly for too many children, in just a very short time the heat inside the car can lethally overheat a child. For the family left behind, the death of a child due to neglect will result in unending guilt, wrecked relationships, public excoriation and criminal prosecution. At Stillman and Friedland, we want to share preventive strategies and ask you to be alert to situations where you can make a difference.
In most of these grim scenarios, a quietly sleeping child is simply forgotten in the car. In some cases the parent is distracted by a cell phone. We suggest that when you are responsible for transporting children, you leave the phone alone. There is no reason to be using the phone while driving, so just put it on silent and forget it.
Safercar.gov has more tips for better child protection in warm weather:
• Always check the car to make sure everyone has exited. Only after making sure no one was forgotten should you lock the car.
• One tip is to put a toy in each car seat and shift the toys to the front when you put in the kids. The idea is that the toys act as a reminder that the kids are in the car. Only lock up after each child is out of the car, and each toy is returned to its place.
• If you have more than one child, have them count off. It is a good idea also in the mall or other crowded venues.
Concerned citizens have developed solutions to remind drivers to check the car with alerts. One blue-tooth-based device lets parents track their child to prevent kids from being left behind:
If you see a child alone in a car, what can you do? First, do not wait for a parent to show up. Do what you should do in any emergency: first call 911, even before attempting a rescue. Then try to open the car or break a window not next to the child to avoid injury from glass fragments. (For under $20 you can get a glass-breaking hammer which you can keep in the glove compartment — it is useful for other emergencies as well.) Under Good Samaritan Laws, you cannot be prosecuted for damaging the car to save the child. However, parents or caregivers who leave a child in the car can be charged under Tennessee law:
For the act of leaving the child in the car there is a penalty fine, even if there is no injury.
• If an injury occurs, the perpetrator may be charged with up to felony endangerment.
• If the child dies due to being left in the car, the charge is criminally negligent homicide.
• It is also a violation to leave children unattended with the motor running or even with the keys left in the car.
We would like to emphasize that it is always risky to leave kids of any size in the car alone and unsupervised. There have been cases where the parent leaves the car for a minute at the gas station and a thief has driven off with the child in the car. Then there are the enterprising kids who just want to drive the car.
Think you know when it’s safe to leave a child in a car? The answer is that children should never be left alone in a car—it is unsafe and against the law.
At Stillman and Friedland we want to wish you and yours a happy and SAFE summer!