It's sadly predictable. Once the heat of summer takes hold, news stories about children dying in hot cars begin flashing across our television and computer screens.
How involved should you become if you see a child left unattended in a hot car? The safest bet is don't be afraid to act. While it's not in many people's nature to jump into a possibly confrontational situation involving someone else's child, not taking any action could turn out a lot worse.
If you see a young child locked in a parked car for more than a few minutes, safercar.org has a guideline on actions you should take:
- Make sure the child is okay and responsive. If not, call 911 immediately.
- If the child appears okay, attempt to locate the parents or have the facility's security or management personnel, page the car owner over the PA system.
- If there is someone with you, one person should actively search for the parent or caregiver while the other stays with the child.
- If the child is not responsive or appears in great distress, attempt to get in the car to assist the child – even if it means breaking a window.
- If the child is in distress due to heat, get the child out of the car as quickly as possible. Cool the child rapidly by spraying him or her with cool water – but not an ice bath.
Some individuals may be concerned that they can be sued or face legal troubles if they break into a locked car, but many states have "Good Samaritan" laws that protect people from getting involved while helping another person in an emergency. Doing nothing may result in a child dying or suffering brain injury from heatstroke.
The risks and consequences of leaving a child unattended in a car are many. Even in this day of information overload, some people simply aren't aware of how an environment or circumstance can change very quickly.
- In 10 minutes, a car can heat up 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Cracking a window does little to keep the car cool.
- With temperatures in the 60s, your car can heat up to well above 110 degrees.
- A child's body temperature can rise up to five times faster than an adult's.
- Heatstroke can happen when the temperature is as low as 57 degrees outside!
- A child dies when his/her temperature reaches 107.
- The heat-related death of a child
- Misdemeanor with fines as high as $500 — and even imprisonment — in some states
- Felony, depending on the state, if bodily harm results from leaving kids alone in a hot car
Lots of people are distracted and in a hurry these days – often multi-tasking while driving. Sometimes babies fall asleep while riding in a car or a child may lay down in the back seat to nap. They may not give you a visual or auditory signal that they are present.
If you are responsible for taking a child to daycare or don't normally have a child in your car when running errands or going to work – place something in the front seat next to your belongings to remind you that there is a child in the car with you. A teddy bear or toy next to your briefcase or purse works well.
If you have an infant or toddler in the car, the best place to put something you'll need when you exit the car is in the back seat – so you are forced to look there before you leave.
If you have multiple children with you – always account for everyone before you leave the car for good. Never assume another parent or friend has the child with them.
Something else occurs to me while listing these options on what to do if you witness a child trapped in a hot car. Older adults left alone in a hot car can have the same results. If you see an older adult sitting alone in a hot car, check on them and make sure that they are okay as well.