It happens with disturbing regularity. Somewhere in America, a busy parent leaves his or her child in the car, with tragic results. Sometimes, it’s done knowingly but without realizing the danger. “I was just going to leave them alone for a few minutes,” is often the devastated parent’s response. Other times, a parent or caregiver forgets about their child in the back seat, and goes in to work or pursue other activities, oblivious to the danger.
On June 2, according to news reports, Panama City, Fla. teacher Jamie Buckley got out of her car and proceeded with her day’s activities, forgetting about her 18-month-old daughter Reagan sitting quietly in the back seat. When she got in the car to leave for the day, she found the child unresponsive, and authorities pronounced her dead. Authorities are investigating the case, and a decision whether to file charges against Buckley hasn’t yet been announced.
Just this week, an 11-month child died in Lauderhill, Fla. after being left in a hot SUV when the family went grocery shopping.
Unfortunately, it’s not an isolated incident. According to the website kidsandcars.org, eight kids have died of heatstroke so far in 2015 after being left in vehicles. Thirty-two kids died under similar circumstances in 2014, according to the site. Although lower than the average of 38, the numbers don’t matter; each case represents a child’s life lost, and a family forever faced with the consequences. And it’s not just kids; many pets die each year after being left in vehicles.
Here in Mississippi, it’s happened many times before; with our stifling summer heat, the probability is good that it could happen again. And just because we’ve had moderate temperatures lately, parents shouldn’t assume that means it’s OK to leave your kids in the car – even for few minutes.
“On an 80 degree day, the temperature inside a vehicle can rise to deadly levels in a matter of minutes, even if the windows are left cracked open,” said Melinda McGrath, Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Transportation. “It’s important to know that children are much more vulnerable to heatstroke than adults. When a child’s temperature reaches 107 degrees, the child dies.”
MDOT issued a news release (http://1.usa.gov/1dOlvhX) on Thursday to remind parents of the danger. McGrath notes that kids can quickly develop hyperthermia, in which the body’s core temperature rises greatly above normal. If left untreated for too long, it can lead to heatstroke, which can affect brain cells and cardiac rhythms, causing permanent injury, such as vision or hearing loss, or death.
MDOT notes that, while it would be easy to blame irresponsible parenting, even the best parents fail sometimes. I, and most of the parents I know, have had absent-minded moments with our children, most of which thankfully didn’t result in tragedy. “In a majority of heatstroke cases,” MDOT noted, “a child was mistakenly left behind by a caregiver who was not accustomed to having a child with them as a part of their normal routine. In other cases, a child climbed into a car and became trapped, because the car door was unlocked and the vehicle left unattended.”
When it comes to leaving the child in the back seat, a variety of approaches have been tried, including attaching a tether to the driver when you get in the car; various types of apps and proximity sensor devices; simple reminders hanging from the rear-view mirror; and adopting simple habits such as leaving your purse or briefcase in the back seat with the child. Whatever works for you, do it.
Here are some more tips, courtesy of MDOT (These tips apply for pets as well):
- Never leave a child or pet unattended in a vehicle – even with the windows down, engine running or air conditioning on, it’s dangerous.
- Look before you lock: make it a habit to check your backseat before you leave your car.
- Take action if you notice a child or pet alone in a car: call 911 and remove the child or pet if possible.
- Keep your car locked with the keys in a safe location when you are not near the vehicle.
- Teach children that a vehicle is not a play area.
- Always check the back seat before you lock your vehicle.
To learn more about the dangers of leaving children in vehicles on hot summer days, visit MDOT’s YouTube playlist entitled “Kids in Hot Cars,” or follow MississippiDOT on Facebook, Twitter (#Checkforbaby) and Instagram.