Warmer weather is approaching and with it the seemingly inevitable news that a child has died in a disturbing, horrific incident from being trapped in a sweltering car. Regrettably, the first incidence of 2011 occurred March 8th in Texas when a mother accidentally left her six month year old in the car for nine hours.
The risks and causes of these child hyperthermia deaths are well known. But sadly, these tragedies occurred 49 times in 2010 – the worst year since records have been kept. Since 1998, 494 child vehicular hyperthermia deaths have occurred in the United States with the leading states as Texas, Florida and California. But what’s even more alarming is the rate of these deaths is climbing, according to statistics compiled by Jan Null of San Francisco State University. It has happened in February and at temperatures as low as 57 degrees F.
There is no common description of the caregiver that has experienced this tragedy. It happens to mothers and fathers, rich and poor, highly educated and less educated, city dwellers and suburbanites. "Couldn't happen to me," you say? Of course, that's what every parent says, including those who go on to experience it at some later date. It is an inexplicable error of the human brain.
But these deaths are preventable – not inevitable.
If you see a child alone in a car, take immediate action. The body temperature of children rises 3 - 5 times faster than adults, and thus, children are much more vulnerable to heat stroke. Dial 911 immediately if you see an unattended child in a car as EMS professionals are trained to determine if a child is in trouble. If a child is missing, check inside all nearby vehicles first – including the trunk.
Be sure to keep your vehicle locked at all times. Thirty percent of the recorded heat stroke deaths in the U.S. occur because a child was playing in an unattended vehicle. These deaths can be prevented by simply locking the vehicle doors to assure that kids don’t enter the vehicles and become trapped.
Another way to prevent this tragedy is to create a reminder. Many child heat stroke deaths occur because parents and caregivers become distracted. Place a cell phone, PDA, purse, briefcase, gym bag or something you will need at your next stop on the floor in front of a child in a backseat. This will help you see your child when you open the rear door and reach for your belongings. Also, set the alarm on your mobile or smartphone as a reminder to drop your child off at day care. And, you can set your computer calendar program to ask, “Did you drop off at daycare today?” Finally, establish a plan with your child’s daycare that if your child is late for daycare that you will be called within a few minutes. And, be especially mindful if you change your routine for dropping off your child at day care.
The bottom line is that most of these tragedies can be avoided. By locking cars, creating reminders for ourselves and acting immediately to a child alone in a vehicle – we can save children's lives.
For more information on preventing child heat stroke deaths, please visit www.safekids.org/nlyca.