Car accidents involving children are especially tragic, but much has been done in recent years to increase child safety in moving vehicles. Car seats are mandatory, parents have been trained to put children in the back seat in their special seats, and the number of children killed in accidents is on the decline.
There is, however, another area of child safety in relationship to vehicles that is under-discussed: children getting injured and killed in non-traffic accidents, often in the family driveway or garage.
What many people don’t realize is that children are in almost as much danger simply by being around vehicles, not necessarily inside of them. More than 100,000 children age 14 and younger are injured every year in non-traffic accidents. These include back-over accidents in driveways, parking lots and garages, as well as front-over incidents.
The most tragic number in the child safety category is that 70% of the non-traffic fatalities and injuries are caused by a direct family member. So, the first rule of child safety in regards to motorized vehicles is to know where your children are at all times when you turn the ignition key. If they are behind you wanting to say “Good-bye” or in front of you wanting to welcome you home, they are in huge danger zones. Statistics show that 1- and 2-year-olds are especially vulnerable to back-over and front-over accidents.
Child safety experts advise never letting your child play near a vehicle, even if the vehicle is not being operated. If your children sense the same type of danger that they would around a knife or gun, they would be much more reluctant to get near a car when it pulls into the driveway. Teach your children that cars are dangerous to them, and establish a safety zone of several yards away from the vehicle, even when it is not running.
As one expert has stated, there should be no interaction between a child and a vehicle unless an adult is present. That can be assured if you lock your vehicle at all times and keep children out of it when you are not in it. You also want to keep your keys far away from your children, lest they be tempted to open the vehicle and play inside. More than a few children with keys have started cars and rolled out of driveways, often with tragic results. Children need to understand that cars are not toys.
Locking the vehicle and storing the keys also prevents the possibility of the child locking himself into a car and being exposed to heat stroke, another threat to child safety while in vehicles. It also circumvents the chance of children getting their body parts caught in power doors and windows, another cause of many injuries.
In addition, tens of thousands of children are injured through heat stroke when left in vehicles without adequate ventilation. Thus, the second rule of child safety is to never leave your children in the car unattended by an adult, even for what you think is a short period of time. Many heat-related incidents, some of which turn tragic, involve a parent going into a store for what s/he thinks will be a short errand. Thirty minutes later, after waiting in a long line at check-out, the parent returns to the vehicle to find a child that has passed out due to heat stroke.
In other cases, parents leave their children in the vehicle without realizing it, hurrying off to do an urgent errand and forgetting that Junior came along. This is why safety experts urge all parents to look before they lock: take a good look at the front and back seats of your vehicle every time you lock the door, especially when the weather is warmer. Look through all of the windows of the vehicle, not just a quick peek over the shoulder from the driver’s seat. This simple step would save many children’s lives–nearly 50 children die every year because of heat stroke suffered while sitting in vehicles.
Other tips include putting a stuffed animal in the car seat so that when your child is placed in it, the stuffed animal sits beside him or her and reminds you that a human being is in the car seat.
Other children are left in vehicles when parents hurry off to work and don’t stop at the daycare center as planned. That leaves Sally in the car all day, which never turns out well. You might want to establish an accountability agreement with the daycare center that involves the staff calling you if Sally does not walk through the door at 8:30 a.m., as planned.
Other ideas to keep your child safe in and around vehicles include:
- Buy a vehicle with top crash scores to ensure that if your family is involved in an accident, it will be protected to the maximum. If you are considering two vehicles of similar price and size, choose the one with the best crash test scores.
- Rearview cameras are becoming more popular in some vehicles and can save a child’s life behind your car.
- Front- and rear-park assist systems also can alert you if a child is in front of or behind your car where they cannot be seen by the naked eye. These can be expensive, but what value would you put on your child’s life?
- Auto reverse on all power windows and doors can help to safeguard your child from an accident as well.
- Transmission shift interlock guarantees that a car cannot be put into gear unless pressure is applied to the brake. That greatly reduces the chances of your child playing around in a car and then having the vehicle suddenly back out of the driveway or roll through the garage wall.
- An alert when rear passengers aren’t buckled in, such as a chime or light, can be an invaluable safety device in your vehicle. Kids are great at undoing their seat belts, and caring parents should know when they are not secured properly behind them.