As summer approaches, the Department of Community and Human Services reminds parents and caregivers that leaving a child unattended in a hot car can be deadly. Experts note that temperatures can rise as much as 19 degrees in an enclosed car within 10 minutes. Over time, and even when the outside air temperature is only 70 degrees, the interior of a car can reach 125 degrees. Infants and young children are especially vulnerable to hot temperatures because their body temperatures rise three to five times faster than an adult’s, which can cause serious injury to the brain, liver and kidneys, and result in death.
On average, 38 children die in hot cars nationwide each year after being trapped inside motor vehicles, according to Kids and Cars, a non-profit organization that tracks national statistics on child injuries and deaths. Many of these incidents occur as a result of a change in routine, fatigue, distraction or anxiety, bringing about a momentary lapse of memory on the part of the parent or caregiver.
Parents need to carefully follow the guidelines for placing car seats in the back seat – the safest place for children to ride. Additionally, babies should ride rear-facing in their car seats until age two, according to the guidelines prescribed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. At the same time, parents must understand that while requiring children to ride in the back seat has saved many lives, it also requires drivers to take extra precautions to avoid unknowingly locking children in an untended vehicle.
The Department of Community and Human Services recommends taking certain following steps to ensure that children will be safe even on days when memory fails.
- Never leave a child alone in a vehicle, NOT even for a minute or with the windows down.
- Engage your child or baby by singing songs or talking to her/him while driving – this will help you remember to focus on your child.
- Do not be distracted by using your cell phone while your child is in the car.
- Make sure that all children leave the vehicle with you when you reach your destination – don’t forget sleeping infants (parents and caregivers should always count heads twice to make sure all children have exited the vehicle before leaving).
- Give yourself a reminder. Get in the habit of placing your purse, briefcase or other important items in the back seat next to your child’s car seat to help you remember to check the back before leaving the car.
- Be particularly mindful on days when there is a change in routine or schedule. For example, if one spouse is dropping the child at day care on the way to work when typically the other spouse does. Or, if there was a holiday mid-week and you are returning to work the next day.
- Purchase new technological devices that can signal when your child has been left in the vehicle.
- If you see a child or pet left unattended in a vehicle, call 911 immediately.
- Have a plan for your child care provider to call you if your child does not arrive at school or a child care site within 10 to 15 minutes of your usual time.