Leaving Keiki Alone In Cars Is Endangerment

Wednesday - July 18, 2007
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Marilyn Lee
By Marilyn Lee

Notwithstanding the controversial debate about whether the “Safe Haven"bill is a good idea,most have forgotten that the “Child Endangerment” bill, which makes it unlawful to leave a child under 9 years old alone in a motor vehicle, failed again this year.

Babies and children left alone in motor vehicles in Hawaii demonstrate a shocking chronology since 2003:

October 2003 - A 10-month-old girl dies after having been “forgotten"in the back seat by her mother for several hours in Kaneohe.

Feb.14,2005 - A 2-year-old boy left alone in a parked pickup truck 20 feet from where his parents are standing, puts the vehicle in gear, causing the truck to move forward, hitting a woman and a building.

March 29, 2005 - A 5-month-old girl is left in a parked car with the engine running while her father goes into a nearby restaurant to pick up lunch.

June 22, 2005 - A 4-month-old girl is left in a pickup truck with the engine running in front of 7-Eleven. The truck was stolen.

Aug. 26, 2005 - A 3-year-old boy is accidentally kidnapped when the vehicle in which he was left is stolen.

October 2005 - Two young boys are left alone in a van in Kapolei while Mom went to the bank. Vehicle is stolen.

March 2007 - 3-year-old girl dies after being left in a closed car for an hour and a half while Dad went to visit friends.

More shocking than these incidents is the fact that across the nation 34 children died in 2001 and 30 died in 2002 - while left alone in cars where temperatures can rise to an alarming degree in a short while, creating a veritable oven. Moreover, kidnapped children run the risk of torture, sexual abuse or murder.

Under current Hawaii law, if a person leaves a minor alone in a motor vehicle, the person may face a misdemeanor offense of endangering the welfare of a minor in the second degree, but only if the person knowingly endangered the minor. The “knowing"state of mind requires that a person must be practically certain that his act will endanger the physical or mental health of a minor and is difficult to prove, hence seldom prosecuted.

For that reason, House Bill 356 and its antecedents have been developed over the past five years as an “absolute liability” violation resulting in a fine with no requirement to prove “state of mind.” In addition, the driver’s examination would include a question about the law, and rental cars would be required to post notice of the law in the vehicle. One could compare the “absolute liability” violation to our seatbelt law. Sadly, though, House and Senate conferees have been unable to agree on this bill.

It is fairly certain that another injury or death will occur again if there is no enforceable law, or an educational process to warn parents and caregivers about the inherent dangers of this practice.

In a recent opinion published by Hawaii’s Intermediate Court of Appeals, Justice Corinne Watanabe provides an exhaustive review of the purpose and use of offenses involving absolute liability, especially their usefulness in preventing conduct,which provides a threat to public safety.

Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder why we have not yet taken action to protect our most precious citizens. In the words of the national organization, KIDS in CARS:

“Would you leave $1 million in your car?”

“Would you let your child play with a loaded gun?”

This is a no-brainer!

At least 12 states have passed legislation that prohibits leaving children alone in motor vehicles. Promoting the safety of children with this simple law and nominal fine may save lives and help to remind parents and caregivers of their sacred and absolute trust.

Contact state Rep. Marilyn Lee, D-District 38 (Mililani, Mililani Mauka) at 586-9460.

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