Heated Discussion

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By: Maria Goodwin

It’s a hot summer day and you are on your way to the grocery store with your child in the backseat, humming along to the radio while the cool A/C blows on her face. Since there are only a couple items on your shopping list, you figure it will only take a few minutes to grab what you need and that your child will be fine in the car with the windows cracked. What most people do not realize is that those few minutes can be extremely detrimental to a child. Recently, I’ve heard more and more about these types of situations involving children being left in cars by their parents or guardians. Since it is still summer and the subject at hand is as relevant as ever, I think it is an appropriate time to address this issue. Some of us may have children of our own, or at least know someone who does, so being aware of this deadly issue could save a life. This may be a more personal issue for those who have been left in a car themselves or have been faced with a hot-car situation where they had to decide if they were going to intervene. Regardless of circumstance, leaving a child in a hot car unattended is careless and extremely dangerous, especially during the warm summer months.

It should definitely be illegal and punishable in all 50 states for anyone to intentionally leave a child unattended in a car. Since lives are at risk, I think every state should have a law in place to make people more aware of these types of incidents and the possible penalties in an effort to decrease the number of such incidents.

Currently only 19 of 50 states have specific laws against leaving a child in a car unattended. Thankfully, Hawai’i is one of them. In my opinion, the number of states with such laws in place is unfortunately low, however, I am thankful that there are at least some states setting such a precedent. My home state, New Jersey, is among the number of states that do not have any rules or regulations about kids in cars. Hawai’i laws state that a child may not be left in a car unattended for more than five minutes. Any time over that five-minute threshold is considered a crime and is punishable by law. The law also states that a child also cannot be left with another child who is twelve years old or younger. When parents run into the store for a few minutes, they do not realize the immense risk they are running. These short errands can turn deadly, as “temperatures inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in as little as 10 minutes”. Data taken from San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences between 1998 and 2014 shows that a total of 636 children have lost their lives due to being left in cars and suffering from heat strokes. Thirty of those children lost their lives in 2014 alone. According to the Department of Children and Families, nine children died in 2015 due to being left in hot cars.

What I find most unfortunate about these situations is that they are avoidable. There are a vast amount of articles reporting children found in cars while their parents are out to eat or are shopping. I find it extremely appalling that a person could do this to another being, especially one in such a helpless situation. If these parents would just take their children with them or take the time to hire a babysitter, these fatalities could easily be avoided because leaving them in the car is not a viable option. Until every state drafts laws to protect those who cannot help themselves, we will continue to read about these preventable tragedies. While awaiting the written laws and the changes they will bring, there has been a push from the technology end. There is a new car seat being manufactured that will help alert parents or guardians that a child is strapped in whenever the engine of the car is turned off. If there are more factors pointing to the child in the car, there may be more thought attached and parents may change their mind about leaving the child. And it can be the most effective in the unfortunate cases where the whole situation is accidental. I find this invention to be fantastic and well worth the $150 that it costs. If we can decrease (or in a perfect world, completely eradicate) youth deaths than why not try?

I recently witnessed a group of kids exit their vehicle to go play soccer at the beach, but they left their small dog in the car without one window cracked. Although it was not a child, animals still pose the same risk of overheating in these situations. I stopped on my bike and observed what was happening to see if I needed to call the police or not. Thankfully a member of the group came back and got the dog and the matter was resolved. Whether it be a child or an animal, getting involved is something we can do to help until we have laws helping us. A national online survey showed that “almost two out of every five parents surveyed said they had seen a young child left in a parked car in the last year”.  If this was you, would you help? If breaking into a car to retrieve a sweating child is too extreme, simply call the authorities. A phone call alone is a great start. A child’s body heats up three to five times as fast as an adult’s. What may be a short amount of time for you and I, seems like a great deal to a child and could result in loss of life. As is the case with many social issues, a little courage and action can go a long way. So step up and step in to help out a child or animal in distress.

Many will argue that it is acceptable to run a quick errand while a child remains in the car because it will only take a few minutes and with the windows cracked the child will get airflow and they will be fine. Kim Brooks, a mother who was charged after leaving her son in the car, said to ABC News, “It was a cool day. It was probably under 50 degrees, overcast day, and it was a safe neighborhood. So at that moment, I just thought, I’m not putting him in harm’s way…”. Sue Auriemma is the vice president of an organization that spreads awareness about public safety issues concerning children and vehicles called KidsandCars.org. She has stated to ABC News that people have said things like “for just a short period of time”, “It’s just a few minutes”, and “It’s OK”, to her regarding the subject of leaving your child unattended in a car. However, as I previously stated, temperatures in cars can rise extremely fast and even with the windows cracked this hot environment can be very dangerous. Charlene Cobb, a paramedic, stated in an ABC News report that “a vehicle can heat up to 125 degrees in just minutes, even if the windows are slightly cracked”. Cobb also points out that a child’s major organs will begin shutting down at 104 degrees and at 107 they can die of a heat stroke. So think about it. Are those few minutes really that important? There is also the argument that it’s your own child so you can make the decisions for them. However, at some point, child abuse and neglect becomes more than a personal decision or problem. Abuse often requires in the intervention of a third party and leaving someone in a 107 degree car most definitely qualifies for abuse.

These grim situations unfortunately continue to occur, yet all are avoidable, thankfully. States such as Connecticut, Florida, and California are just a few of the 19 states that already have laws set in place against leaving children in unattended vehicles. I feel there needs to be a push to get the rest of the states along with this necessary regulation. If there is an active law in place, parents will hopefully be more aware of their actions and will make sure they plan their outings accordingly. Also, investing in a car seat for your car to only further help remind you about your child in the back can only act as a positive. Changes need to be made and need to be made soon in order to start saving lives. In general parents should plan ahead of what they will be doing when they go out to make sure they can bring their or child; having a law put in place will only help with this push. And in unfortunate situations when you are someone who sees someone unattended – get involved. I think that is the only way to help – whether that be to take matters into your own hands in dire situations or to call the police. Either way seeking help will only saves lives and help spread the awareness that this is unacceptable.

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5 Comments to “Heated Discussion”

  1. As a child, I was always on the other side of this debate. My mother would often go garage sale-ing and take my sister and me along. We wanted to go with her, but after a few garage sales, we would be tired of getting in and out of the car. My mother would give us the option to stay in the car or come with her. I think my sister and I were between 10 and 12. We would choose to stay in the car most often, but my mother would give us the keys incase we changed our minds and decided to join her or unless we got too hot and wanted to roll down the windows. From my experience, I don’t feel as though my mother leaving my sister and me in the car for 10 minutes was bad parenting. However, I do realize that some parents neglect their children and don’t give them the option whether to stay in the car or come with them. Further, I know that most parents wouldn’t trust their 10 year old kids to use the car keys just to roll down the windows or lock the doors. I would have hated for my mom to get in trouble for my choice to stay in the car, but I agree that in unsafe situations, the parent is totally to blame. It kind of puts me in the vague, gray area on this issue.

    • I always would stay in the car with my sister too when I was a kid. My mom would do some quick grocery runs. I guess she always assumed my sister and I were old enough to get out of the car if we were hot or roll the windows down. I mean nothing ever happened to us while we were in the car and I never ever thought my mother was a bad parent for leaving us there–I mean we wanted to stay. But wow, I do see how this can be a very threatening situation and hazardous (especially to young kids). I have to agree with you about being in a gray area… it’s hard to pick a side when I have experienced the situation free of harm but then also reading about all these other situations that have resulted in death..

  2. Personally, I didn’t think much about this issue until you brought it up. It really does seem like a simple thing to run a quick errand for 5 minutes. However, I was really shocked by the number of deaths that occur as a result. I’m glad that Hawai’i has laws prohibiting that, though. If these deaths can be easily prevented, then I think more states should enforce similar laws. These number of deaths are way higher than they should be, and I think part of that is because a lot of people don’t know that 5 minutes can mean life or death for children waiting in cars. We should definitely inform our friends and family to be careful.

  3. I believe that this is a really important topic to discuss, because I have read and heard of numerous cases of parents either leaving their children in the car intentionally, or even forgetting that their child was still in the car. I have read of many stories in which parents intentionally left the kids in the car for hours to go shopping, and this is truly insane, especially if the car is parked outside in the hot sun. There is also a possibility of a child getting kidnapped with no one watching them, so it is just dangerous and neglectful on the parents’ part. What really shocked me was reading and hearing about parents who forgot that their children were still in the car. I have read about a father who forgot to drop off his child to the daycare, and accidentally left him or her in the car while he was at work. How can a parent forget that their child is still in the car with them? I have a daughter, and I would never forget that she was in the car with me. It’s just unimaginable to me, and somewhat suspicious. Many children have died due to their parents’ neglect or harmful intentions to hurt or kill their child. I believe that it is every person’s duty to notify authorities if they see a child locked in the car with the windows only slightly cracked, especially if it is an extremely hot day. Something drastic needs to be done about this, because it is really getting out of hand and has now become a serious problem.

  4. This issue is highly underrated for the dangers that are posed to kids, and, as you mentioned, animals as well. I watched a video just last month of a pitbull dog who was left in a car in searing heat while the owners decided to go shopping for a bit. The dog suffered a major heatstroke, and passersby banded together to break the windows and rescue the animal, but by the time it was brought to a hospital it succumbed to the seizures that struck it. I wouldn’t like to think this happening to a child. When I was a kid my aunt would always leave me in the car while she went to get some food, but she left the engine running and always pumped up the AC. I was always told to lock the car doors once she closed it and to only unlock them for her when she returned–but now, I can see that leaving kids in a car is a dangerous and risky thing to do. Leave them inside with the windows cracked, and they might be affected by searing heat or cold; worse, strangers might smash into the car and grab your kid. It’s not just about the heat or the weather, it’s also about safety. How is leaving your child inside a car, by themselves, unattended, a good thing? Especially if they are under 12 years old. I don’t like stepping on parents’ toes, but if I ever saw a kid left alone in a car, in a parking lot, I would definitely be worried for their safety and notify someone about it.

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