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Can Tech Help Save Kids Left in Cars?

Thumbnail image for school bus Last year our community mourned the death of a Jonesboro toddler who had been left in a daycare provider’s van. This Clayton County tragedy struck us all with the fragility of life and the sorrow of an avoidable accident.

In my practice as a wrongful death lawyer, I have seen the devastation for families when an accident causing serious injury or death occurs. Part of my job as a lawyer is to help families get through the most difficult times in their lives. It is critical that we do all we can to avoid accidents that are avoidable.

Just last week, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported that two DeKalb County five-year olds were left asleep in a school bus and weren’t dropped off at their bus stop to the panic of their mother and relatives. The family called the school and the bus returned there. Thankfully, that situation ended well, after the children were found to have been sleeping on the bus during the entire incident. But Georgia school bus drivers are required to check their buses regularly for sleeping children. And there is good reason for that rule.

The safety of children left behind in cars and buses has the attention of safety experts. The federal government recently sought out the testing of technologies that are intended to alert parents and caregivers that an infant or child has been left behind in a car. Thus far, reports are that the technologies and devices that would warn of this potential disaster are not simply reliable.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that heat stroke is the leading cause of non-crash vehicular deaths in children under 14 years of age at a rate of about 40 per year. That is why the federal government sought to evaluate devices that might prevent such tragedy.

According to recent report by CBS News, NHTSA and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia evaluated about 18 products that were developed to provide the intended life-saving warning.

Unfortunately, the results were not as any of us would have hoped. Tested products included that purport to alert parents or caregivers that a child has been left behind in a vehicle. The products were tested using dolls and some children. The products did not perform well across the board.

Some problems identified included the following issues. First, they require a great deal of set-up by parents and care-givers. Second, test scenarios revealed that spills on the devices or movement by the child could disarm it. Other problems included the signal distance, misuse and other common problems that could occur in daily life with children. The devices do not provide a warning in those cases in which a child enters a car without the parent knowing this has happened.

In a written statement, the NHTSA administrator noted that: “Everything we know about child heatstroke in motor vehicles is that this can happen to anyone from any walk of life – and the majority of these cases are accidental tragedies that can strike even the most loving and conscientious parents … “While many of these products are well intended, we cannot recommend parents and caregivers rely on technology to prevent these events from occurring.” Disappointing news for all parents and caregivers.

For now, parents and caregivers need to think before they leave their baby or child: “Where’s baby? Look before you lock.” The following list from NHTSA includes just some of the prevention tips you can find on the NHTSA site. These are intended to remind parents and caregivers of the ways to avoid this problem.

“Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle.

Do not let your children play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them that a vehicle is not a play area.

Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle, even if the windows are partially open.

Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away.

If you are dropping your child off at childcare, and normally it’s your spouse or partner who drops them off, have your spouse or partner call you to make sure the drop went according to plan.

Ask your childcare provider to call you if your child does not show up for childcare.

Always lock vehicle doors and trunks and keep keys out of children’s reach. If a child is missing, check the vehicle first, including the trunk.”

The Law Offices of P. Charles Scholle represents clients in Metro Atlanta and throughout Georgia in cases involving injuries to infants and children. Our Gwinnett County law practice supports victims in resolving their injuries either through settlement or in court. If you or a loved one has been seriously hurt in a motor vehicle accident, the Law Offices of P. Charles Scholle can help. To set up a free, confidential evaluation of your case, please contact us or call us toll-free at 1-866-972-5287.