Leaving kids alone in the car can be deadly
With summer temperatures rising, health experts are warning about the dangers of leaving children alone in vehicles.
Just this May, seven children have already died of heat stroke after being left in cars, according to KidsAndCars.org. The national nonprofit child safety organization says nearly 700 children have died as a result of being left in hot vehicles since the group began tracking trends in the mid-1990s.
Emergency medicine doctors say parents and caregivers put children at a huge risk of injury or death when they leave kids unattended—even briefly—and even on days when it’s not that hot.
“Some people may think it’s okay to leave kids in the car on days when temperatures are only in the upper 60s, but even on cooler days the temperature inside a closed vehicle can rise well above 110 degrees in a matter of minutes,” said Dr. Rishi Sikka, emergency medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group. “In the bigger picture, children should never be left alone in a car for any reason no matter what the temperature is.”
It might be hard for some to imagine a parent forgetting about their child and walking away from the vehicle, but KidsAndCars.org says it’s not that uncommon. They say, ironically, another auto safety device that may be contributing to the problem.
According to the organization, the number of reported fatalities spiked in the early 1990s when the installation of airbags required children to be placed in in the back seat with infants in rear-facing car seats. They believe the new positioning of the rear-facing car seats may make it easier for parents and caregivers to forget the child is in the car before leaving them alone.
Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle related deaths for children under the age of 14, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). An average of 25 children die each year after being left alone in hot cars.
Responding to the troubling trend, the NHTSA launched the Where’s baby? Look before you lock public service campaign to prevent heat child heat stroke deaths in cars last year.
The campaign urges parents and caregivers to take the following precautions:
- Never leave a child alone 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.
- Do things that serve as a reminder a child is in the vehicle, such as placing a purse or briefcase in the back seat to ensure no child is accidently left in the vehicle, writing a note or using a stuffed animal placed in the driver’s view to indicate a child is in the car seat.
- Teach children a vehicle is not a play area and store keys out of a child’s reach.
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