You did your research, bought a safe family car, and never leave the driveway without first strapping your kids into their car seats. That's smart -- but is it enough to protect them from harm? The scary fact is that every day, 7 children are killed and another 872 are injured in motor-vehicle collisions across the United States, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Obviously, you can't always avoid a car crash, because some collisions are caused by other drivers. But many parents unwittingly put their kids in danger while they drive. These sobering real-life stories illustrate just how quickly and easily an accident can happen -- even when you think that your children are safe.
"I left my kids alone in the car for a few minutes."
Last November, before leaving her mother's house for the six-hour drive home to Coalinga, California, Anna-belle Moody wanted to make sure that nothing was left behind. So with her three kids already inside the family car, which was parked in the driveway, the 38-year-old mom dashed inside. That's when Annabelle's youngest child, 3-year-old Malan, spotted the gear shift. Before his brother, Devin, 8, and sister, Casie, 6, realized it, the toddler had climbed into the front seat and pulled the lever into neutral. The front passenger door was hanging wide open.
As the car began to roll, Malan lost his balance and tumbled out the door. Thinking fast, Devin reached up, forced the gear shift back into park, and leaped from the car. He found his little brother lying on the ground and tore into the house, screaming, "Malan's hurt! Malan's hurt!"
With two skull fractures, a punctured lung, and a ruptured spleen, Malan was in the hospital for eight days. "As a parent, I've tried so hard to make safety a priority," Moody says. "But I just didn't know that kids should never be left alone in a car."
A recent survey by the National Safe Kids Campaign found that 20 percent of parents ages 18 to 24 considered it okay to leave kids unattended in a car. What's more, half of the parents surveyed said they don't always lock cars parked at home. "These are disasters waiting to happen," says Janette Fennell, executive director of Kids 'N Cars, a San Francisco-based nonprofit.
Kids 'N Cars has compiled more than 1,200 cases in which kids were injured while left alone in cars: Besides putting a car in motion, children have also been burned by lighters, injured by windows, and trapped in trunks. One in four cases was fatal.
Smart Safety Steps:
- Whether or not the keys are in the ignition, never leave your children unattended in or around a vehicle, not even for a minute.
- Store your car keys in a secure place, where they are inaccessible to your kids. Children pay close attention to what you do and know full well what those keys are for and how to use them.
- Always keep your car locked when it's parked in the driveway or the garage.