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Never Leave Kids Alone In The Car

Tammy Russell says she often wonders what her daughter Kaitlyn would look like today. This September she would have been entering kindergarten.

But 5 years ago on a hot summer day in California, Kaitlyn's babysitter forgot her in the backseat of a car.

Russell says, "The day that Kaitlyn died they had estimated that the temperature inside the vehicle was 130 degrees."

And Kaitlyn's body temperature had risen to 107 degrees.

Russell notes, "The coroner estimated that within the first 15 minutes of being left in the car that Kaitlyn succumbed to the heat."

When The Early Show consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen started working on this story, about 2 weeks ago, there were nine children who had died this year after being left alone in cars.
That number is now up to 17.

Unfortunately, that number will probably go up even more. And experts say cracking your windows, is not enough to keep your kids safe.

"Children being left alone in vehicles is a very big problem," says Janette Fennell, founder of an organization called Kids and Cars.

She says at least 30 children die each year from heat stroke, after being left in cars, often by the people who love them the most: Their parents.

Fennell explains, "In most cases, it's the parents who inadvertently have forgotten to drop the baby at the babysitter or the daycare."

How does this happen? Fennell says a common thread in these cases is a change in a parent's normal routine, which can lead to a memory lapse.

Fennell notes, "If you are the dad and you always take the kid to daycare and maybe mom has to take the kid to daycare that day, just have some good checks and balances in place to ensure that the child arrives at the destination safely."

It is part of the job of trooper Donna Tadiello, from the Connecticut state police, to drive in and out of rest areas and commuter parking lots looking for kids who may have been left alone in a car. And she says she sees kids left behind cars all the time.

In Connecticut, if you leave a child younger than 12 alone in a vehicle, you could be charged with a felony. And troopers have a warning for parents: Cars can get dangerously hot, faster than you might think.

Tadiello explains, "Within minutes, within seconds, the vehicle's temperature - the inside temperature can heat up even if the outside temperatures are in the mid 70s. If the windows are up and the sun is beating through the windows, the temperature can rise to very dangerous levels."

Koeppen wanted to see what would happen when she put a thermometer in the backseat of a SUV on a sunny 90 degree day in New York City. And within an hour the heat rose to 122 degrees - deadly to a child.

To prevent children from becoming trapped in hot cars, even NASA has gotten involved. It has developed a safety system that would alert parents, if a child was left strapped in a car seat.

It's called the Child Presence Sensor. Here's how it works: A device is placed in the child's car seat. If a parent walks away with the baby still inside the car, an alarm attached to a key chain will go off.

NASA's William Edwards says, "The only way to cut off the alarm is for the driver to go back to the car and get the child, and the alarm will reset."

Russell supports a new federal bill that would require that sort of warning device in vehicles; an alarm that tells drivers a passenger is still in the backseat. In the meantime, she says parents need to be diligent.

"Never think that this can't happen to you," she says, "And do everything in your power to prevent it from happening. Make a habit of always checking the backseat. Never ever intentionally leave a child alone in a vehicle. Not for a minute, not for a second, because those seconds could mean your child's life."

Experts say many of these cases do not involve deadbeat parents. These are loving, caring, and well educated parents, like doctors and lawyers, who forget their children in the backseat.