Before leaving your child in the car for “just a minute” to run that last-minute errand or stop quickly at the grocery, know that anytime your little one is left in a vehicle unattended—no matter how short the stop—they are at risk for hyperthermia, heat stroke and possibly death.
In 2010, heat stroke from being left alone in a car claimed the lives of 49 children, three of which were in Ohio. Between 1998 and 2010, over 494 children nationwide died from this completely preventable but life-threatening situation. This problem was at its all-time worst last year, and the U.S. has already seen its first heat stroke deaths this year in Texas and Louisiana. This is avoidable, but usually arises from a parent’s lack of awareness.
While parents may think leaving their kid in the car is easier for quick errands, this convenience factor also threatens their child’s life. On average, it takes only 10 minutes for a car to heat up by 19 degrees. Additionally, kids’ bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults’ which predisposes them to heat stroke, or vehicular hyperthermia, which is often deadly.
Even if the temperature outside doesn’t feel warm enough to heat up a car doesn’t mean it’s safe to leave a child unattended in a vehicle. This is a common misconception, and although warm weather states are at a higher risk, 49 out of the 50 states have experienced deaths from vehicular hyperthermia.
“Child deaths from heat strokes have occurred as early as February and with an outside temperature as low as 57 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Jessica Saunders, injury prevention coordinator at Dayton Children's and Safe Kids Greater Dayton coordinator.
Often times parents unintentionally leave their children in the car because they become distracted with other things. In order to ensure this doesn’t happen to you and your child, here are some easy ways to ensure your child stays with you despite distractions:
- Place belongings strategically such as a cell phone, PDA, purse, briefcase, gym bag or whatever is to be carried from the car on the floor in front of a child in a backseat. This forces the adult to open the back door and observe the child when they reach for their belongings.
- Set your cell phone or Blackberry reminder to be sure you dropped your child off at day care.
- Set your computer “Outlook” program to ask, “Did you drop off at daycare today?”
- Have a plan that if your child is late for daycare that you will be called within a few minutes. Be especially careful if you change your routine for dropping off children at day care.
Over the past 13 years almost 500 children have died from this preventable tragedy, and while the responsibility lies on parents, anyone can help save a child’s life.
Here are several ways to keep our children safe:
- Dial 911 immediately if you see an unattended child in a car. EMS professionals are trained to determine if a child is in trouble. Check vehicles and trunks FIRST if a child is missing.
- Lock Cars and Trucks Thirty percent of the recorded heat stroke deaths in the U.S. occur because a child was playing in an unattended vehicle. These deaths can be prevented by simply locking the vehicle doors to assure that kids don’t enter the vehicles and become trapped.
- Get Involved. Advocate for stronger state laws to protect children from being left unattended in a motor vehicle.
For more information on preventing child heat stroke deaths, please visit www.ggweather.com/heat and www.safekids.org/nlyca.
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