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Forgotten children who die in cars are crime victims



Published: Sat, August 3, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Forgetting an infant in a car on a scorchingly hot day isn't a mistake or an oversight, it's a crime. When the child dies, it should be treated as a felony.

A recent Knight Ridder wire story painted sympathetic portraits of some instances in recent years in which children died because they were left alone in cars on hot days.

The story told of an assistant professor of nutrition at Wayne State University in Detroit who forgot to take his 5-month-old son to day care and left the baby in the family's minivan for four hours in 90-degree heat. And the chief executive officer at Dallas County Hospital in Perry, Iowa, who forgot to take her 7-month old daughter to the baby sitter, leaving her in the van for nine hours. And a NASA engineer who meant to drop his 9-month-old son off at a day-care center but forgot, leaving him in the car for eight hours.

In each case, the child died. And the story pointed out that in these and most such cases, the child was forgotten because the adult's daily routine had been changed.

When people forget that they are responsible for a child, something has gone terribly wrong. The wire story didn't say how many of those deaths, or the other 15 deaths so far this year or the 30 last year that happened when parents or caregivers forgot the kids resulted in criminal charges. It's safe to say, not enough.

Confusing pain and punishment

In too many instances, authorities decide that the adult has suffered enough. We don't doubt that they've suffered, but that doesn't mean that laws covering child neglect should not be enforced.

A parent who goes through an entire day without ever thinking about the child he or she left in the car that morning, probably doesn't deserve to be a parent. Certainly the child doesn't deserve to die.

And while the all-day mistakes are perhaps the most dramatic, parents should know that it takes only minutes for the sun beating down on a car to make it a death trap. And the temperature need not be much above 70 degrees or the sun especially bright for a closed car to reach temperatures of a fatal level over a matter of time.

Some scientists and companies are working on a technological answer to the problem of children abandoned in cars. One is a weight-sensitive pad in a car seat that sends a signal to a fob attached to the car keys. If the driver takes the keys and walks 20 feet away without removing the child from the car, an alarm sounds.

Technology can work wonders, and we should be thankful for the lives it saves. But it shouldn't take technology to make a parent remember a child.




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