The very real, fatal and preventable danger of leaving children in cars

By ELI BEER
June 30, 2019 16:40
A child leans out the window of a car.

A child leans out the window of a moving car 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Imagine the following scenario: A loving mother of three children has dropped her two oldest off at school. She then goes shopping to pick up groceries with a third child, a sleeping infant in the back seat. The mother is tired. She didn’t sleep well last night as her two youngest children woke up numerous times. She circles the parking lot for a while looking for a spot before finally finding one. As she gets out of the car, she drops her keys on the floor, then picks them up, locks the car and heads into the store.

She doesn’t need a lot, just a few quick things, but the lines are long. She returns to the car 10 minutes later, opens the trunk to put in the groceries and realizes that she forgot her infant in the back seat. She drops everything, rushes to open the side door, finds her infant unconscious and unresponsive, screams and calls for help. Seeing what happened, a bystander calls emergency services, and a few minutes later, first responders on ambucycles and ambulances arrive. They begin CPR in a frantic effort to save the child. The mother is frantic as the EMS teams intubate the child and prepare the child for transporting to the hospital. They managed to get a weak pulse back, this time.

The above story is not fictional. It happens dozens of times each year all over the country. According to a report by the organization B’Terem-Safe Kids Israel, stories about 661 children being locked in cars appeared in Israeli media between 2008 and 2018. In reality, the number of incidents is much higher. During the first four months of 2019, United Hatzalah volunteers responded to 383 emergencies in which children were locked in cars. There are on average close to 100 cases each month in which a child is locked in a hot car. That is almost 100 children each month who are at risk of dying in preventable deaths. That is more than three per day. These situations happen to the most loving parents. In cases where the child is injured or dies as a result of a parent forgetting that their child was in a car, the tragedy is so immense that it often rips families apart and leaves emotional scars that never heal. These stories are ones that destroy lives.

A number of years ago in the Knesset, I raised the safety issue of children being left or locked in cars in the summer heat in Israel. This is an issue that is preventable, but based on the statistics, occurs far too regularly to be brushed aside.

I personally tried to campaign for the Knesset to pass a law requiring all cars to have devices that remind parents that they have a child in the car with them before they turn off the vehicle. There are a lot of technologies out there that can prevent these deaths and near-death situations, and they don’t cost a lot. So far, the Knesset has not seen fit to pass a law applying to private vehicles, but they did enact a law regarding public transportation vehicles and school shuttles. That being said, the government is not doing enough to solve this problem, a national issue.

IF 100 CHILDREN up until the age of seven were severely injured in a terrorist attack, fire or on a hiking trip, there would be a public outcry so deafening, the committees and public hearings would be convened in no time whatsoever. However, because these incidents occur on a singular basis, one in the North, one in the South or the center of the country, etc., they are not given the attention this issue truly deserves. 

In the last week alone, United Hatzalah volunteers across Israel have rescued three children from being locked in extremely hot cars. Thankfully, our volunteers arrived in time and were able to rescue the children, and none of the children suffered any lasting damage. All of these situations could have turned out differently and would have had tragic results for the children and families if not for the proper intervention.

Former Jerusalem Post health reporter Judy Siegel worked on a campaign a few years ago to raise awareness of this issue. Her efforts, combined with mine, resulted in a campaign that we funded in which we handed out stickers to drivers all over the country to serve as a reminder for parents to make sure that their children are not forgotten.

I’ll never forget the story of a father who was not used to picking his son up from daycare, and when he went to the gym afterward, he forgot his son in the car. He was a loving father who cared for his son deeply, but he simply forgot. His son, who was sleeping in the back seat, died as a result. This is a topic that everyone should be discussing and constantly reminding one another about so that we can prevent even one unnecessary death. The government should pass laws to help prevent these tragedies. The same way in which there is a law requiring every car to have a yellow vest, so too it should be mandated that every car should have a preventive device that will remind parents to take their child out of the back seat.

I met a fellow from Monsey, NY, who is a car technician. He invented a device that prevents him from forgetting his tefillin or challot in the car by sounding an alarm every time he locks the car and doesn’t open the back door to take the items out of the back seat. The device is simple and inexpensive. This, too, I brought before the Knesset, but it was met with little support. If the government is not willing or able to make this a public issue, then we the public should make it an issue they cannot ignore.
As the summer heat intensifies, help me by making this issue one the government must take seriously, and issue legislation in order to help curb the trend. Post about it on social media. Encourage friends, neighbors and family members to be extra careful if they have young children. As B’Terem states clearly on its website, “If you think that this cannot happen to you, think again.” It is my sincere wish and prayer that there won’t be any more of these heart-breaking situations this summer, and that all of our children, whether they take buses or private shuttles to school, or are driving with their parents, remain healthy and safe.
 
The writer is the father of five children, a social entrepreneur and president and founder of United Hatzalah of Israel, an independent, non-profit, fully volunteer EMS organization that provides fast and free emergency first response throughout Israel.


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