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Introduction 

Children are our most precious resource. Unfortunately, they do not have the skills to protect themselves. Adults can, and must, protect them. Most States codify this obligation in various child abuse and endangerment statutes. Still, many States fail to statutorily recognize the relationship in the traffic safety context. For example, though virtually every State recognizes the inherent dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs (DUI or DWI), many do not articulate special sanctions for DWI/DUI drivers with minor passengers.

Like several other implements of child abuse, motor vehicles are household necessities. If not used properly, however, they can be deadly weapons. A ride in the family van, sports utility vehicle (SUV), pickup truck or sedan can become lethal if adults do not take appropriate precautions, including using proper child restraints and avoiding DUI restraints. Further, when an adult leaves an unsupervised child in an automobile, the adult takes an almost unconscionable risk, subjecting the child to a myriad of life-threatening situations, including heat exhaustion, suffocation, and physical injury.

This monograph addresses motor vehicle occupant protection issues concerning children. The document discusses the dangers children face and identifies relevant laws and criminal prosecutions. It identifies these incidents for what many of them truly are: important, if often overlooked forms of child abuse.

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