How would you prevent, or at least minimise, the occurrence of tragic incidents relating to supervision of children in vehicles? Reshma Rajagopalan suggests some proactive measures
CHILD safety in Malaysia is not a new issue, especially in the context of car mishaps. Studies indicate that an average of 38 children die each year in the US in cars parked under the hot sun. Still, the recent tragedy — a teacher left her 5-year-old son in her parked car for over six hours — has got the whole country talking.
The teacher reportedly forgot to drop her son at his kindergarten that morning. She rushed to her school, parked her car and locked the doors, with the child asleep in the backseat of the car. Six and a half hours later, at 1.30pm, the woman was seen running to her car, screaming her son’s name, only to find him unconscious.
It is easy to point fingers at the parent and many have been quick to do so, condemning the teacher for being a negligent, heartless parent.
Granted, negligence may be an appropriate accusation but “heartless” sounds like a bit of a stretch. After all, it’s unlikely the mother intentionally left her child like that. Witnesses say that she was visibly distraught when she rushed to her car.
Across the country, two major viewpoints have emerged. First, that the teacher must be brutally punished. The other, that she is already suffering enough as a result of her actions.
Surely this whole episode calls for a certain amount of moderation. It’s tempting to impose the Child Act 2001 to charge and punish the parent so that a precedent can be set. However, the argument that such punishment will act as a deterrent could be weak because the adult in this case, we assume, never intended to endanger the child. A deterrent is relevant when there is intention.
So what do we do?
What if we translated all this energy into a positive action, like empowering the next generation of drivers, instead of finding that one person to penalise?
What we need in place are proactive measures that would productively convert the proposed punishment into a form of education.
In other words, if driver education, for example, were to incorporate the Child Act 2001 into its syllabus and make it a requirement for all learner drivers to be familiar with the Act and its consequences in the context of road safety, then there would be an actual chance of lowering the rates of accidents, injuries and fatalities.
By creating an environment in which learner drivers are relentlessly reminded of the consequences of negligence, to the point that it becomes second nature for them to check if any passengers are in the car — look before you lock — lives could be saved.
What is more important than castigating the teacher is acknowledging that this was not the first incident of its kind and will likely not be the last. This leaves us to wonder, is it time we change our entire mindset and engineer safety into the way we think, rather than remember it after an accident?
Think about this: It only takes 10 minutes for the temperature in a car to jump up to 11°C, according to a vehicle heat study sponsored by General Motors.
Further, because a child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s, children can suffer life-threatening brain injuries in just 15 minutes, and will die when their body temperature reaches 41°C.
With this in mind, it is alarming that 23 out of 43 parents knowingly left their children unattended in their car for over two minutes, according to a study by the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros). Since this study was believed to reflect the national level of vehicle safety awareness, it can be assumed that over 50 per cent of Malaysian parents are likely to do the same. If they were more aware of the consequences of doing so, this figure would probably decrease significantly.
It is difficult to prevent situations in which children are intentionally left unsupervised in a vehicle, but some safety measures can prevent an adult from forgetting about a child in a vehicle.
Safekids.org, a child safety website, recommends that: Parents are encouraged to leave a handbag, briefcase, cellphone or some equally important object in the backseat with their child, so that upon arrival at their destination, they will not overlook the child’s presence.
Really? Does that mean today’s parents will remember the phone but may forget their child? Apparently, yes. Safekids.org is a dead serious website.
Surely, that reinforces the point about building child — and adult — safety into the bedrock of driver education.
Reshma Rajagopalan, 15, is a student at Mont Kiara International school. She hopes to start driving lessons next year.
Mind these numbers
incident to get a nation talking
a child’s body heats up almost 5 times faster than an adult’s (MSNBC, a cable news channel based in the US)
minutes. The time it takes for a car’s temperature to shoot up 11°C (General Motors Study)
children die on average each year in hot cars (Department of Geosciences, San Francisco State University)
degrees Celsius is the body temperature at which a child will die (MSNBC)
per cent. More than half of Malaysian parents are likely to leave their child unattended in their car for over 2 minutes (Miros Study, 2012)
road fatalities of children 18 and below in 2009 (Miros Publications, 2009)
total road fatalities in 2009 (Miros Road Facts, 2009)