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Officials: Hot car deaths avoidable

Sheriff’s Office received 21 calls of toddlers left in vehicles in 2013

POSTED: July 21, 2014 1:00 a.m.

Accidents in which children die after being left in vehicles are more common than one might think. According to car safety expert Kimberly Martin, more than 40 children died in hot cars in the United States last year alone.

She said advocacy group

KidsAndCars.org has reported 17 such deaths so far this year, and awareness of the problem has increased after the highly publicized death of 22-month-old Cooper Harris in Cobb County last month.

“This is not a new trend,” said Martin, a licensed practical nurse and coalition coordinator for Safe Kids Gainesville/Hall County. “Quite a few children have been saved (from hot cars) since the Cooper Harris case because people are more alert and aware.”

Hall County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Nicole Bailes said the department has received 21 calls so far in 2013 in which infants or toddlers were left inside vehicles. Twenty of those incidents appeared to be accidental, and the majority of calls were made by the parents.

Martin and Bailes said parents can take simple steps to avoid such accidents.

“It only takes a few minutes to change a lifetime,” Bailes said.

She recommends parents tilt their rearview mirrors so children in the back seat are always in view.  She said she does this herself when traveling with her daughter.

“It is also a fun way to talk and engage with my daughter, (and) allows me to see if she is ever in any distress or discomfort,” Bailes said.

Bailes and Martin also recommend parents place their belongings in the back seat when traveling with their child so they will see the child when they turn around to retrieve the items. Bailes added keeping your children’s belongings in the front seat when they travel with you can also serve as a helpful reminder.

“For moms, leave your purse or your cellphone in the back seat to remind you,” Martin said. “For dads, a briefcase or cellphone can work.” 

Both said it’s also important to communicate with your children’s caregivers.

“Parents can contact their caregivers and request a courtesy call when your child has not arrived on time to the facility or home,” Bailes said.

“See if your caregiver has a system in place to tell parents if their child has not arrived,” Martin said. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”

Bailes and Martin stress parents should also make sure cars are locked while they’re at home because children often climb inside vehicles to play and may get stuck inside.

Martin said parents can also use technology to avoid forgetting their children in cars. She said First Alert makes a car seat connected to a smartphone app, which reminds parents their children are still in the car.

Child safety advocates hope technology like this will soon become widespread. KidsAndCars.org and the Georgia Trial Lawyers Association have created a petition asking the White House to authorize research and development funds for technology warning parents when children are left in cars.

“If you forget your keys in the ignition, you get a warning,”

KidsAndCars.org President Jannette Fennell said in a written statement. “If a child is left behind, you absolutely need a warning.”

The petition is available online, and needs to reach 100,000 signatures by Aug. 12 to ensure consideration.



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