Car seat heat deaths tragic, but preventable

via Car seat heat deaths tragic, but preventable, on clarionledger.com

Every year, there are tragic stories of some parent leaving his or her child in a car seat while they goes about their business. Although the story of the Atlanta-area dad leaving his precious little boy in the back seat has him facing murder charges — and appears more complicated than simple neglect — the fact is that this happens far too often.

Back in May, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a study from the San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences showing that at least 44 children in the United States died in 2013 after being left in unattended motor vehicles. There are likely many more who have been moderately or severely injured. A grisly map shows where the 15 deaths to date in 2014 have occurred.

The statistics are grim, and point to the potential for even-greater tragedies. The advocacy group Safe Kids Worldwide reports that 14 percent of parents say they have left a child alone inside a parked vehicle despite the risk of heatstroke. “Based on the U.S. population, that number is projected to be nearly two million parents transporting more than 3.3 million children who say they have intentionally left their infants, toddler, and kindergarten child alone in a parked vehicle,” the NHTSA noted. “For parents of children three and under, the percentage increases to 23 percent. Dads are almost three times more likely than moms to leave a child alone in a parked car – 23 percent compared to 8 percent.”

This isn’t just something that happens when the weather is hottest; heatstroke can happen even with moderate temperatures. Our well-insulated cars have lots of glass, and the sun can raise deadly levels in just a few minutes. The Weather Channel notes that a car in the sun for 90 minutes on a 90-degree day like today can rise to 138 degrees. (Body temperature of 107 is often fatal.) Even if you roll down the window, it doesn’t help much. Of course, it’s not always a parent leaving a child in the car; sometimes kids get into a car without an adult’s knowledge.

With our notoriously long, hot summers here in the South, we’re no strangers to this tragic trend. And recently, we have also seen pet owners doing the same thing. Just a couple of days ago, a Florida woman left her dog in a hot car while she browsed at Wal-Mart for 13 (thirteen!) hours. The poor pooch died of heat exhaustion, leading to the woman being charged with (misdemeanor) animal cruelty.

As a parent, it would be easy to criticize parents who leave their kids — or pets — in the car. You just have to ask, “how could they do that?” But the record shows that in most of these cases, it’s simply a parent or pet owner being too busy and distracted. While you and I may not think it could happen to us, it’s likely that many caregivers involved in these tragedies didn’t think so either; but here we are.

So what can be done about it?

  • First of all, we need to be aware. The NHTSA launched its “Where’s Baby? Look before you lock,” campaign in 2012, after a series of roundtables and town hall discussions around the country that brought together representatives from the automotive industry, child safety advocates, health and safety professionals, members of the academic community, and victims. This campaign has a few basic messages for parents — which extends also to pet owners.
  • Never leave a child or pet unattended in a vehicle – even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on. * Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away. If that means leaving something important like a purse or cell phone in the backseat, or putting a stuffed animal on the dash to remind you — do it.
  • Ask the childcare provider to call if the child doesn’t show up for care as expected. This could serve as an important reminder.
  • Teach children that a vehicle is not a play area and store keys out of a child’s reach

There are also numerous other things you can do. A Nashville 11-year-old created a simple device with rubber bands to catch you as you try to step out of the car. And a Facebook page called “Beat the Heat, Check the Back Seat” has lots of ideas and resources.

One more child or pet being injured or killed is one too many, and regardless of how it happens, it’s always tragic … and preventable.

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