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Kids Left in Cars: State Agencies Warn of the Dangers: Officials urge greater awareness for Georgia's youngest citizens

December 13, 2013

Originally published May 13, 2013

The leaders of six state agencies and three partner organizations are calling for parents and caregivers of children to be more aware of the dangers associated with leaving kids unattended in vehicles. In the shadow of the Gold Dome last week, officials held a news conference to express their concerns and demonstrate how fast temperatures can rise inside a closed vehicle, especially in the spring and summer, and especially in Georgia.

"We are here today to save lives as leaving children unattended in vehicles has become the leading cause of non-traffic vehicular deaths in the nation," said Bobby Cagle, commissioner of Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning. "We're told that more than half of all vehicle-related heatstroke deaths in children are caused by a child accidentally being left in a car and more than 30 percent are from a child getting into a hot car on their own."

One of the speakers at last week's news conference was Jenny Stanley, a parent who lost her 6-year-old daughter, Sydney, in August 2010 when the child became trapped inside the family's car while parked in their garage.

"I had always heard the term 'died of a broken heart' but I thought it was just a saying. I now know that it is an actual physical pain and I felt like dying," said Stanley.

Cagle said one way to remember the warnings is with the word ACT: Avoid heatstroke; Create reminders; Take action.

In an effort to prevent such tragedies, officials urged all parents and caregivers to remember three things: 

  • NEVER leave a child in a vehicle unattended
  • ALWAYS lock your car and put the keys out of reach -- even at home
  • ALWAYS call 911 if you see a child left in a vehicle

"It is never safe to leave children alone in cars, no matter what the temperature, not even for a minute," said Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health. "Children's body temperatures warm at a rate three to five times faster than adults putting them at a much higher risk for heat related illness. The bottom line is never leave a child alone in a car. Period."

Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety, agreed.

"A warm Georgia day can turn a car interior into a deadly place in minutes," said Blackwood. "We ask all Georgia parents to 'Look Before You Lock' anytime children are present."

Col. Mark W. McDonough, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, reminded drivers to make it a regular practice to check the back seat and back floor area for children and animals each time they exit their vehicle, and if they come across a child left in unattended vehicle, do not hesitate to contact 911.

"Do not leave children and animals unattended," said McDonough. "Teach children that a car or truck is not a play area and be sure to lock your vehicle."

Agencies participating in the news conference included the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning; Georgia Department of Public Health; Georgia Department of Human Services; Georgia Department of Public Safety; Georgia State Patrol; Governor's Office of Highway Safety; and the Governor's Office for Children and Families. Supporting partners included Safe Kids Georgia, Emory Center for Injury Control and the Georgia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Partnering with Safe Kids Worldwide, the agencies also presented a webinar for child care providers, caregivers and parents.