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Summer is in full swing, and as temperatures rise, so do tragic reports of infants and small children left in sweltering cars. The stories rarely have happy endings. In Portsmouth, VA, earlier this month, five-month-old Jeremy Rivera died when his father forgot to drop him off at his child-care center, leaving him in the car for several hours.

Kids and Cars, a non-profit organization dedicated to child and automotive safety, states that every ten days a child dies of vehicular hyperthermia in the United States; and the National Highway Safety and Transportation Administration (NHTSA) reports that there have been 527 similar deaths since 1998, an average of 38 per year. The statistics are staggering, and the results devastating to families and communities alike, when they are faced with the senseless loss of one of their youngest and most vulnerable members.

Innovators and grassroots movements have taken up the battle for children’s safety. Kids and Cars is proposing legislation to require automobile manufacturers to standardize sensors, like current seat belt sensors, that will advise drivers if there are still passengers aboard before they can lock their vehicles. There is also currently a host of after-market products available geared toward preventing hot car tragedies, ranging from pads that sense if a child is in his or her car seat, to devices that detect whether the seatbelt is buckled. There are chest clips that attach to the restraint system and alarms to remind parents to check the back seat.

While manufacturers have certainly risen to the challenge, Dr. Kristy Arbogast of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, whose team of researchers has recently completely a comprehensive study, reports that none of the devices on its own is effective or reliable enough to be considered a parent’s only defense against vehicular hyperthermia. David Strickland, NHTSA Administrator, instead advises that parents use a “layered” approach to prevention, employing strategies like placing purses or briefcases in the back seat with the child, so Mom or Dad can’t set off for a busy day at work without being reminded to check the car seat. Parents should also remember that a significant percentage of car-related heat stroke deaths are caused when a child is playing in a car and gets locked in, or when the caregiver intentionally leaves a child behind, unaware of the serious dangers of such behavior.

With so many risks and variables out there, a parent’s best defense is to be aware of the facts, aware of the dangers, and to actively employ procedures that will help keep your child safe, so that you can enjoy many future sunny summers together.

About the Editors: The Shapiro, Lewis & Appleton personal injury law firm, whose attorneys work out of offices in Virginia (VA) and North Carolina (NC), edits the injury law blogs Virginia Beach Injuryboard, Norfolk Injuryboard, Eastern Shore Injuryboard, and Northeast North Carolina Injuryboard as a pro bono service.

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