State Legislature to consider child safety measures
TOPEKA -- Child advocates Tuesday urged lawmakers to approve a bill that would assess a $25 fine to adults who leave a child unattended in a vehicle.
"Cars are not babysitters," Dr. Dennis Cooley, a Topeka pediatrician told the Senate Transportation Committee.
Child safety experts warned of numerous dangers of leaving children alone in a vehicle, including excessive heat, getting caught in automatic windows, the possibility of being abducted during a car theft and crashes caused when the child accidentally starts the vehicle in motion.
"These tragedies are truly heart-wrenching, but preventable," said Janette Fennell, president of Kids and Cars, a non-profit organization.
In Kansas, there are currently two choices for law officers when they see a child has been left alone in a vehicle.
They can scold the adult or take the children into custody and charge the parent or caregiver with child neglect or endangerment.
Senate Bill 77 would make it unlawful to leave a child 8 years old or younger alone in a vehicle unless they are accompanied by someone 13 or older.
Fennell said the bill would provide a reasonable alternative by authorizing a fine of $25 and developing a safety awareness campaign with the use of federal highway funds. A fine of between $250 and $500 would be assessed for a second conviction within three years of a prior fine.
From 1998 through last year, at least 320 children have died in the United States from hyperthermia or heat stroke after being left in a car, Fennell said. Four of these deaths occurred in Kansas.
Also at least two Kansas children have died since 2001 after being strangled by power windows, she said.
More education of adults on the danger is needed because on an 80-degree day, the temperature inside a car parked under direct sunlight increases to 110 degrees within five minutes.
Committee Chairman Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, said car manufacturers were making changes in vehicles to avoid some hazards, such as back-up sensors and power window switches that must be pulled up instead of pushed down.
But he added, "If you had a vehicle with all these things on it, you would still have to be careful."
After the hearing, Donovan said the committee would probably work on the bill Wednesday.
- Staff writer Scott Rothschild can be reached at (785) 354-4222.