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Our Views: Keep a safer summer

Be it hot cars or cool lakes, vacation fun can be a dangerous time for youngsters

POSTED: June 29, 2014 1:00 a.m.

It’s summer, glorious summer, that season when school is out and the lazy days are spent sunning on the beach, cruising the lake, hiking the mountains or taking in a ballgame.

But sadly, it’s also the season when accidents and fatalities can mount, particularly among children.

Whether it’s on Lake Lanier, the highways, backyards or the back seat of a hot car, this time of year can be dangerous for the youngest and most vulnerable.

A horrifying example was in the headlines recently when a Cobb County toddler died after spending a hot afternoon strapped into his car seat inside an SUV. His father has been charged in the case, and details still are emerging. But whether it was criminal negligence or a horrible accident, it is a tragedy we’ve seen all too often in summer.

Public safety officials urge parents to be aware of leaving kids in hot cars, where midday temperatures can climb past 100 degrees in a few minutes. A quick run into a store or other locale can be too long, even with the windows cracked.

Such an accident isn’t rare, occurring about 40 times per year nationwide. A recent survey on SafeKids.org reveals that 14 percent of parents have left a child in the car intentionally, 11 percent by accident, and nearly 1 in 4 parents overall forgetting a child of 3 or younger in a car at some point. Fathers are three times more likely to do so than mothers.

Today’s vehicles can perform wonders such as remind us when our lights are on, our keys are left in the ignition, give us directions and even signal to avoid collisions. Surely there’s a way to come up with an effective alarm system to prevent these senseless deaths.

So far, manufacturers have yet to find reliable sensors to alert parents that a child remains in a car seat beyond a certain time period after the car has stopped. Many lead to too many false alarms and thus haven’t been widely marketed.

But there are new attempts to create sensors attached to child seats that alert parents through their cellphones or the car’s alarm system. Once the technology is perfected, it should become standard equipment in new vehicles and child seats.

Yet even if such a device is created, it might be years before it is prevalent enough in the automobile market to make a difference. In the absence of such technology, parents must improvise.

SafeKids.org offers several tips that can help parents stay aware:

• Place an item of the child’s in the front seat, or better, an item the parents need in the back seat such as a briefcase, purse, cellphone or even a shoe.

• Set up an alert system with day care centers that will have them check in with parents if the child isn’t dropped off as scheduled.

• Always check the back seat, and perhaps center the child seat to make it more visible in the rear-view mirror.

• Make all caretakers, including grandparents and baby sitters, aware of the dangers.

We all can do our part by being aware of possible dangers as we pass by closed-up vehicles. Get in the habit of taking a peek inside to make sure there isn’t a child or even a pet inside. Call 911 if there is no driver in sight. Such action could save a life.

But those aren’t the only tragedies we see in summertime. There already have been a handful of drownings in Lake Lanier and Northeast Georgia this season. It’s only natural with the volume of lake visitors rising and with more people in the water.

Too many such incidents begin to sound alike: An inexperienced swimmer goes out too far and is unable to get back to shore. Lanier has many dangerous and unpredictable drop-offs that can catch swimmers unaware.

Teaching young people to swim is the first step to prevent drownings. Those who are less comfortable in the water should stay close to shore and with groups. And everyone should have a life jacket handy when out on the lake in any watercraft.

In addition, the Corps of Engineers and other agencies that manage lake parks should increase signage in swimming and high-traffic areas to warn of the risks. Such signs need to be in both English and Spanish; many recent lake victims have been

Latino and may not have been fully informed. When human lives and safety are involved, the “English-only” view needs an exception.

Back on dry land, summer finds more kids riding bikes, playing ball, climbing trees, skateboarding, all activities that can lead to injuries, serious or mild. Accidental injuries are the No. 1 killer of children under age 14, according to Safe Kids Gainesville/Hall County.

Of course, kids need to be kids and get out and play during the summer, which is better than letting them park in front of the TV or video game on a sunny day. Parents just need to take the proper precautions to ensure such fun doesn’t lead to an emergency room visit.

Tops on that list is making sure kids wear bicycle helmets. A skinned knee or even broken bone can heal more easily than a serious concussion or serious head injury.

In fact, most safety procedures are simply a matter of routine. By teaching children now to avoid dangerous situations and stay aware, we will instill in them habits they’ll keep for life.

Let’s all do our part this summer to keep these terrible incidents from ruining what should be a fun, carefree time of the year.


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