This entry, all about the dangers of leaving children in hot cars, the frightening truth on who could do this and tips on how to avoid forgetting a child in the back seat is brought to you by Jenny Tropia, Coordinator for the Derby Early Childhood Council and parent of two young children.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration approximately twenty-five children a year die as a result of being left or becoming trapped in hot vehicles. The windows of a car act like a greenhouse, trapping sunlight and heat, rapidly increasing the temperature inside. In the hot summer months it can take just 10 minutes for a car to heat up 20 degrees and become deadly. Even relatively mild outside temperatures in the 60s can cause the temperature in a car to rise well above 110° F. This can cause fatal heatstroke in a child left inside.
Heatstroke is defined by WebMD as “the most serious form of heat injury and is a medical emergency…heat stroke can kill or cause damage to the brain and other internal organs.”
Leaving a child unattended in a hot car is unthinkable yet, according to WFSB.com within the last month alone, six Connecticut parents or caregivers have been charged with leaving children in unattended vehicles. Kidsandcars.org reports that here have been a shocking 719+ deaths of children left in cars from heatstroke through 2013. An average of 38 per year since 1998. That's one every 9 days.
Who are these parents, who all too frequently are reported in the news every year, because they forgot their child in the back of the car? When I was researching this blog entry I wondered, how can it possibly happen? Who does this? I was shocked to discover that it seems it can be any one of us.
An article in the Washington Post reports that “the wealthy do [it …] and the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.”
Parents, especially those of young children are often sleep deprived, out of their usual routine or distracted by other things – traffic, phone calls, work – multi-tasking during their busy days. It sounds like the all too familiar start to the day for many of us and any of these can be a contributing factor in the event of a parent leaving their child in a car.
Below are some ideas to help you remember the little one in the back seat:
* Leave your shoe. Drive an automatic and don’t use your left foot to drive? Leave your left shoe in the back seat. You’re not going to get very far without realizing you forgot your shoe.
* Leave something important. Need both your shoes to drive? Try leaving your purse, wallet, phone, house keys or presentation for work in the backseat. Chances are you will need them as soon as you get where you are going.
* Check in with each other. Set up a system with a spouse or friend to check in with each other that daycare drop-off went smoothly. It can be as quick and easy as a text message as you are leaving, confirmed by your partner. If they don’t get that text at a certain time (both of you should set an alarm or reminder) they can call you within minutes of the scheduled drop-off.
* Use a Mirror. Fix a child-safe mirror to the backseat so you can see your child in your rear view mirror.
* Tie a ribbon to your finger. Do this whenever you put your child in the back of the car. It would be pretty hard to make it through the day with a ribbon on your finger without realizing it was there or having someone point it out.
A few of the above ideas were taken from this article from The Stir. The article also includes a few additional ideas.
Sadly there are still reports of parents intentionally leaving their children in the car when running errands. Perhaps it’s easier to leave a sleeping baby in a car when dropping off an older sibling at camp, or cracking a window and running into the store for a few things. The dangers outlined above far out way any benefit from doing so. In addition, regardless of the weather, it is against the law in Connecticut to leave a child under the age of 12 in a car unattended at any time. This includes leaving the engine running – which presents another set of dangers in itself.
Kids Health USA is reminding parents of the importance to teach kids not to play in cars. And offer the following advice:
*Make sure to lock your vehicle, including doors and trunk, when you’re not using it. Keep keys and remote entry fobs out of children’s sight and reach.
* Teach kids that trunks are for transporting cargo and are not safe places to play. If your child is missing, get help and check swimming pools, vehicles and trunks.
* If your children are locked in a car, get them out as quickly as possible and dial 911 immediately. Emergency personnel are trained to evaluate and check for signs of heatstroke.
Finally, take less than two minutes to watch this powerful video from a parent who tragically forgot his child was in the back seat of his car.