Originally published April 30, 2012
April is Distracted Driver Awareness Month. Distractions include cell phones, busy work and personal lives, schedules to think about, grocery lists, and more. Distractions exist with the important task of driving as well as active supervision and care of children.
During 2011, news reports indicated three children were left unattended in hot vehicles and died of heat stroke in Georgia. Nationally, 49 children died in 2010 and 33 in 2011. The Department of Geosciences with San Francisco University reports that 547 children have died from heat stroke since 1998 and half of those were under the age of two. Fifty two percent were forgotten by the caregiver and 30 percent were playing unattended in the vehicle.
According to Safe Kids USA, the temperature in a car can rise drastically. A child's body temperature can increase 3-5 times faster than that of an adult and this can lead to quick heatstroke or hyperthermia. Additionally, within 10 minutes the temperature in a car can increase 19 degrees or more and keep rising throughout the day.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a study was done showing that even when the outside temperature was 72 degrees, the inside temperature of a vehicle rose to 117 degrees within 60 minutes. Children's surface body and core temperatures rise faster than those of an adult, so their risk of death is much greater. Please refer to the resources section for more detail on this subject.
The Child Occupant Safety Program has been keeping kids safe for many years through technical expertise and distribution of child safety restraints, and best practice education to professionals and local communities. Injury-related deaths like heatstroke occur in all levels of society and are preventable. Professionals, parents, friends, and neighbors should all feel empowered and remember that if you are a bystander and see a child alone in a vehicle, call 911 or the local emergency center to get help immediately.
There are many ways to discourage this behavior and remind caregivers, as they sometimes get distracted and forget a child is with them. Here are prevention strategies to consider for caregivers and families:
- If you are a bystander and see a child alone in a vehicle, call 911 or the local emergency center to get help immediately.
- If you are driving and have children with you, put a purse, briefcase, or other item that you will take with you when you leave the vehicle, to remind you there is a child present.
- Do not leave children alone in vehicles and always keep your vehicle locked when it is parked, in case children may try to get in it to play. Ensure children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices.
- Keep a stuffed animal in the car and when the child is placed in the car seat, put the stuffed animal up front with the driver to remind them to check for the child.
- Always check for a child, especially if your routine is different that day. Always check the front and backseat before you leave a vehicle.
- Set a reminder on your cell phone to drop your child off at daycare to avoid possibly forgetting the child is with you.
- Work out an arrangement with your childcare provider to call you if the child has not arrived.