Every summer the heartbreaking news stories flash before us.
A distracted parent forgets their infant is in the backseat, parks and locks the car and goes into work. One parent thinks the other has removed a child from the car after a trip or errand, but no one has. Someone cracks the windows a few inches and decides to leave a sleeping child in the car while they run into the store to pick up a few items. Childcare van drivers forget to count the children left in their charge after a field trip and a child is left locked inside a parked transportation van on a private parking lot.
And then there are the stories of people (parents and nonparents) who think they can park the car in the shade and have a few drinks at the local bar while their child is left locked in a hot car.
The reasons for children dying or suffering serious medical injuries in hot parked vehicles are indeed numerous and totally preventable.
According to data released by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at least 44 children in the United States lost their lives in 2013 after being left in unattended motor vehicles – and an unknown number of others were moderately to severely injured.
The average number of U.S. child heatstroke fatalities per year since 1998 is 38. There have already been two such deaths reported this year.
A child can suffer heatstroke within minutes when left in a hot parked car. Even with windows rolled down two inches, when the temperature outside is in the low 80’s, the temperature inside the car can quickly become deadly.
Children's bodies in particular overheat easily, and infants and children under four years old are at the greatest risk for heat-related illness. Young children bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult's. When a child's temperature reaches 107 degrees, they die.
The results of a study released by Safe Kids Worldwide states that 14 percent of parents say they have left a child alone inside a parked vehicle despite the risk of heatstroke. Based on the U.S. population, that number is projected to be nearly two million parents transporting more than 3.3 million children who say they have intentionally left their infants, toddler, and kindergarten child alone in a parked vehicle. For parents of children three and under, the percentage increases to 23 percent. Dads are almost three times more likely than moms to leave a child alone in a parked car – 23 percent compared to eight percent.
NHTSA, Safe Kids, and its safety partners urge parents and caregivers to take the following precautions to prevent heatstroke incidents from occurring:
▪ Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle – even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on;
▪ Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away;
▪ Ask the childcare provider to call if the child doesn't show up for care as expected;
▪ Do things that serve as a reminder that a child is in the vehicle, such as placing a purse or briefcase in the back seat to ensure no child is accidentally left in the vehicle, or writing a note or using a stuffed animal placed in the driver's view to indicate a child is in the car seat; and
▪ Teach children that a vehicle is not a play area and store keys out of a child's reach.
In addition, NHTSA and Safe Kids urge community members who see a child alone in a hot vehicle to immediately call 911 or the local emergency number. A child in distress due to heat should be removed from the vehicle as quickly as possible and rapidly cooled.
Beginning May 5 and running through September, you’ll hear more about this topic as the NHTSA launches a national radio and internet campaign, "Where's Baby? Look Before You Lock," to reach parents, caregivers, and grandparents about the importance of this issue.