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Leave the Kids in the Car? Not Even for a Minute

December 13, 2013

Originally published July 29, 2013

A child in the U.S. dies from heatstroke about once every 10 days after being left alone in a hot car, according to federal statistics. Twenty-three children have died already this summer after being left unattended in a car or when they climbed into an unlocked car to play. These deaths are 100-percent preventable.

July 31 is National Heatstroke Prevention Day. The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH), along with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Safe Kids Worldwide, will work to raise awareness about the dangers of leaving children unattended in vehicles. 

As late summer approaches and temperatures start to soar, the dangers of hot cars for children and pets increases exponentially. Even cool temperatures in the 60s can cause the temperature inside a car to rise well above 110 degrees. The inside temperature can rise almost 20 degrees within just 10 minutes.

One Georgia family discovered recently that fast-rising temperatures can have dire consequences for children. A mother in Hall County accidentally left her 2-month-old child alone in the car in early July. Ten minutes later, she realized her mistake and called 911.  The baby was rushed to the hospital and treated for hyperthermia, also known as heatstroke, and survived. But dozens of other families have not been so lucky.

"When talking about heat-related illness or death, children's bodies can't regulate temperature like adults," said DPH Commissioner Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D. "That means their bodies heat up at a rate three to five times faster than adults."

Since 2000, 52 percent of heat-related deaths involving children in cars have happened because children were left in a car accidentally, sometimes when parents or guardians forgot that the child was in the back seat. If you see a child alone in a vehicle, call 911. Authorities say they would rather respond to a false alarm than lose a child because no one called for help.

Officials remind parents to make sure that cars parked at home stay locked and that the keys stay out of the reach of little hands. Kids love to play and hide in cars.

There are other things people can do to spread the word and help raise awareness about the dangers of leaving children in unattended vehicles. Reach out to stores, banks, fast-food restaurants and gas stations to encourage them to inform their customers and staff members about children in cars and the dangers of heatstroke. Share the same message with parents and grandparents groups, day-care centers and churches.

To continue to raise awareness on National Heatstroke Prevention Day, DPH will be tweeting and posting on Facebook throughout the day on July 31, using the hashtag #heatstroke. Follow the social media conversation and help spread the word.

For more information on how to participate in National Heatstroke Prevention Day, visit www.safercar.gov/heatstroke.