​Possible negligence seen after kids inside car suffocate to death

Three girls died from suffocation after being locked in a parked car under the heat for hours in Orion, Bataan, a case which police and road safety advocates will have to closely monitor for possible violation of a three-month-old law aimed at promoting children’s safety inside vehicles.

The three cousins, aged 6, 8 and nine years, were last seen playing near the car at 2 pm on May 13, Orion Police Chief Capt. Dennis Orbista said.“They were just playing at that time. The parked car there has a passenger door that can be opened, that’s how they got in,” he added.

But the children could not get out because the lock was broken from the inside, Orbista said, citing initial investigation. They were found motionless two hours later by one of the victims’ father, who took them to the hospital, where they were declared dead on arrival.

The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will determine whether there was negligence on the part of the parents or guardians of the kids.

According to Orbista, the DSWD “didn’t see any negligence,” upon initial investigation. “There was no official report but when we asked initially, there were no findings of negligence.”

The parents were home when the kids were out, the police chief said. “All we know is the father went out looking for them. They were lost.”

“We cannot rule out outright negligence even as the police are waiting for the full investigation reports,” road safety advocate and lawyer Melisa Comafay said.

“The children were not left unaccompanied by an adult ‘in’ the car, they were last seen playing outside and near the car. It is best we await the full findings before we rule out the possibility of a violation right away especially since the news source is limited at the moment,” she added.

Leaving kids inside a running or parked car is not allowed under the recently signed Child Safety in Motor Vehicles Law (RA 11229).

The law states that “at no instance shall such child be left unaccompanied by an adult in a motor vehicle.”

“The reason behind this is because a child is the most vulnerable passenger during transport, whether or not the vehicle is in motion. Various cases of both adults and children have been reported on deaths due to suffocation in a motor vehicle,” said Comafay, from the non-profit Buckle Up Kids PH, an advocacy group which campaigns for children's road safety.

In 2017, a four-year-old girl died from suffocation while staying inside a parked car for hours in Davao City. Like the case of the girls in Bataan, the child was locked from the inside of the car.

Another girl, 8, was found dead after suffocating in a car also in 2017 in Pasay City. A family member said she was missing until they found her lifeless in the car.

Comafay said the law centers on the child's welfare. The child “cannot protect itself when it is alone in the car even when it is seated in a child safety seat.”

“The law is clear that there are no exceptions to leaving the child unaccompanied while in the motor vehicle,” she said.

RA 11229 mandates the use of car seats for children aged 12 and below while travelling. (Read here: Use of car seats to protect children now a law).

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