- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Erika Zollett’s youngest child, now 2½, was 7 months old when Zollett heard yet another tragic story of an infant dying in a hot car.

“The child who died was the same age my child was at the time. My mom and I started talking, what can you do about it?” said Zollett, formerly of the Richmond area who is now living in New Hampshire.

“The more we read about the problem, the more we found that there really isn’t a solution. … We wanted something really easy, that would be simple for parents, that would help jog the minds of the parents.”

Zollett and her mother, Arlene Zollett of Henrico County, came up with what they think is a solution.

It’s a stretchy strap with clip fasteners on each end. The driver attaches one end to their seat belt and tethers the other end to air vents on the dashboard.

“We came up with so many ideas. Some of them would make noise, but we thought who wants to wake up a sleeping baby,” said Erika Zollett, who also has a 5-year-old.

“We came up with lots of different things that could be attached to the parent or purse or an object a parent might have with them,” she said. “But we really found that the most effective solution was something that would literally block them, stop them in their tracks. The strap prevents them from getting out of the car because it would block their exit.”

Zollett is a marine biologist, and one of her interests is how to keep marine mammals from getting caught in fishing gear.

“That’s very different, but the whole concept of developing new solutions is a common theme,” she said.

They call their device the Bambringo Baby-in-Car Reminder Strap and sell it online for $11.99 at www.bambringo.com.

“We thought this would be a great thing for parents, grandparents, baby sitters, anybody that had your child in your car and you wanted an extra level of security for them,” said Arlene Zollett, a former nursery school teacher and grandmother of four who demonstrated how to attach the device.

A seamstress, Arlene Zollett helped make some of the prototypes.

“It was really a family endeavor. Erika’s husband is a Web designer, and he did our website for us,” she said.

The straps are manufactured by a firm in China. “It’s very difficult in the United States to get a manufacturer that will do a small production,” Arlene Zollett said. “Obviously, we are financing this ourselves. We tried to keep our budget low.”

She said they are happy with the final product.

The strap comes with some common sense tips on proper use: Drivers should make sure the strap is free and clear of the steering wheel, turn signal lever, gear shift lever, foot pedals, arms and legs, and anything else used for driving. The strap should never be attached to a door-opening handle.

In the U.S. in 2015, 24 children died from being left in hot vehicles, according to data compiled by Jan Null of the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science at San Jose State University.

An analysis by Null of media reports on the 661 child vehicular heat stroke deaths reported from 1998 to 2015 show that in about 54 percent of cases, children were forgotten by the caregivers; in 29 percent of cases, children were playing in an unattended vehicle; in 17 percent of cases, children were intentionally left by adults; and in 1 percent of cases, the circumstances were unknown.

Deaths of children inadvertently left in vehicles rose after the addition of passenger-side air bags to cars and some child deaths from deployed air bags. Subsequently, caregivers were told to put children in the back seat.

A 2015 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration examined child reminder devices, but the report did not make any endorsements. The report did give a list of what to look for when selecting a reminder device, including ease of use and minimal additional action needed after installation.

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Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, http://www.timesdispatch.com

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