Our view: Tragedy averted, let's talk kids-in-cars safetyThe mother was only a few steps from returning to her van on a bright, early autumn afternoon last week. That’s when the vehicle suddenly, unexpectedly and frighteningly started to roll. Left inside with the engine still running, the woman’s 4-year-old son playfully had gotten behind the wheel and somehow had managed to slip the machine into gear. He also locked the doors.
The mother was only a few steps from returning to her van on a bright, early autumn afternoon last week. That’s when the vehicle suddenly, unexpectedly and frighteningly started to roll. Left inside with the engine still running, the woman’s 4-year-old son playfully had gotten behind the wheel and somehow had managed to slip the machine into gear. He also locked the doors.
The incident along Skyline Parkway is an ideal opportunity to offer reminders about leaving kids in cars, leaving cars running unattended and other car-safety issues.
Ideal because tragedy was averted when the van rolled harmlessly (for the most part; another passenger suffered a minor rib strain) down the driveway of a child-care facility where the woman was picking up another child, and across the street before coming to rest against a house.
Ideal, too, because this is Child Passenger Safety Week.
“I do see it. I can’t say whether it’s a huge problem or not. Certainly it’s a problem when things happen like happened the other day,” Ryan Morris, a crash investigator for the Duluth Police Department, told the News Tribune Opinion page this week when asked about the Skyline Parkway incident and about the frequency of similar incidents.
Any time you leave a child inside a running vehicle you’re opening the door to tragedy.
“Most likely, someone could steal your car with your child in it. If it was an abduction case it’d be an easy way to do that,” he said. “It’s a safety issue. It’s kind of like when you put your kids in the bathtub and don’t leave them unattended. You’re trying to minimize risks.
“I think it probably happens everywhere,” he said of kids being left in running vehicles. “We’re lucky” that incidents like the one on Skyline Parkway don’t happen often.
Leaving a running vehicle unattended isn’t only a bad idea with potential dire consequences, in Duluth, it’s against the law, Morris said. A city ordinance requires the removal of keys from any unattended vehicle.
“In wintertime we get those calls, in the early morning, about a car that was stolen when someone left it sitting outside, running and warming up,” he said. “It happens, but it’s rare. You could call it a freak incident.”
And a reminder.
In observance of Child Passenger Safety Week, here are a few more, courtesy of the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, which reports that only 53 percent of the small children killed or injured in vehicle crashes over the past five years were properly secured in car seats:
A lot of it is common sense. That includes avoiding the assumption that nothing bad can happen when a small child is left unattended inside a running vehicle or when we just pop out quickly, our vehicle still running, our other kids inside, at school, the child-care place or a soccer game.
As Officer Morris put it, “It all comes down to minimizing risks.” That’s something all vehicle operators are responsible for doing — and all the time, whether it’s Child Passenger Safety Week or not.