Ever run into a store for a minute, leaving your child to wait in the car? Or worse, imagine this scenario: you’re so preoccupied with getting to work on time, you forget your sleeping child is still in the backseat! When you remember, will it be too late? It may seem impossible, but accidents like these can easily happen.
A car’s internal temperature increases rapidly, leaving kids vulnerable to dehydration, heat stroke, or worse. On average, 37 children die per year due to heat-related complications from being left inside a vehicle; half are under the age of 2. Suffering from such a horrific tragedy changes the lives of the victim’s loved ones forever. Dr. Marianne Black of Franklin Park Pediatrics and Officer Jodi Johnson of the Rossford Police Department lay out the dangers and offer suggestions for keeping our kids safe.
Heat stroke happens fast
Black warns that heat stroke can occur within minutes. Signs to look for include flushed/hot skin, lack of sweat, agitation, dizziness, disorientation, nausea/vomiting, rapid breathing, confusion, seizures, and unconsciousness. “The temperature inside a car can increase 20 degrees in just 10 minutes, and rolling down a window does little to cool it down. The temperature climbs quickly, higher than outside temperatures,” Black said. “Children are more vulnerable to heat stroke because their bodies warm up three to five times faster than an adult body. Also, children have fewer sweat glands and they are not able to adapt to temperature changes as well as adults. Deaths have occurred when the temperature is just above 70 degrees outside.”
See a child alone in a car? Take action
Don’t wait if you see a child alone in a car. Call 911 immediately, and get the child out of the car. Black advises the child must be cooled down. Stay with the child until help arrives, and send someone to look for the parent right away.
Johnson urges, “…A citizen has every right to rescue a child from a very hot vehicle by any means possible. If they feel it necessary to break out a window to get to that child, then by all means, yes, it is a precious human life.” Parents who leave a child alone in a vehicle also face charges of child endangerment.
Slow down and be aware
Many parents are increasingly overwhelmed by the demands of work and family life, so it’s vital to have emergency plans in place. Johnson urges, “Prevention starts with slowing our lives down. Children are, and should be, our focus in life. If parents, grandparents, sitters, etc., slow down and focus on the child and not where they need to rush off to next, it would greatly reduce many children’s accidents.”
Keep kids safe
- Never leave your child alone in the car, even for a minute.
- Get in the habit of checking the back seat every time you leave the car. Leave something you need in the back seat of the car (a purse, cell phone, identity badge, etc.) as a backup in moments of forgetfulness– we all have them!
- Keep vehicles locked always. Tragic accidents have occurred when kids have entered a vehicle on their own and been unable to get out. Make sure car keys are inaccessible to children.
- Call 911 if you see a child alone in a car. If they appear to be in danger, get them out of the car as fast as you can.
- Ask childcare providers, schools, relatives etc. to call to check in if your child has not arrived on time.