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LIFESAVER New law empowers bystanders to save children locked in cars

By The Post Intelligencer, Paris, Tenn.

The Sun's editorial writer is out of the office this week. The following editorial is republished from the May 19 Post Intelligencer, Paris, Tenn.

"I'll only be a minute."

That can be a fatal thought for a driver who leaves a small child locked in a car while dashing into a store or running an errand.

A new survey found that even though most parents have heard of the danger of hot cars, 14 percent nationally have intentionally left children unattended in a locked car. That amounts to as many as 3.3 million children up to 6 years old.

Fathers were three times more likely to take a chance than mothers.

Since 1998, the study found, 606 children across the nation have died of vehicle heatstroke, 28 of them in Tennessee. Tennessee's last year for such deaths was 2012, when three children died.

The Tennessee legislature this year passed a law empowering bystanders who see young children alone in a hot car to break a window without having to pay damages. The law requires rescuers to call 911 before taking action.The survey said 37 percent of parents say they have seen a young child alone in a vehicle, but did nothing.

(Kentucky does not have a similar law, but law enforcement officials believe the state's Good Samaritan Law would likely shield a bystander from paying damages if a child was in distress.)

But the real burden is on parents and caregivers, who in haste may not realize how quickly temperatures in a closed vehicle can rise to the danger point. The bodies of children heat up at least three times faster than adults, research has shown.

A variety of technological tools on the market could help remind parents that a child is in the car, but researchers found none that is fault-proof.

For parents, memory props may be life-saving. One suggestion is to keep a stuffed animal in the child's car seat when it is empty. Then when a child is put into the car seat, move the toy animal to the front passenger's seat as a reminder that there's a kid aboard.

The best advice, of course, is never to leave a child alone in a locked car.

And don't blow a gasket if you come back to your car and find some good samaritan has broken out a window to save your child's life.

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