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Children Should Not be Left in Hot Cars – Look Before you Lock!

Posted by Marianne Frederick

Recently, we learned from child safety colleague, Janette Fennell of Kids and Cars.org, the sad news that within a 6-day period this summer 8 children in 4 different states died because they had been left in parked vehicles whose interiors overheated. This isn’t the kind of piece ChildSafetyBlog.org wants to write today or any day. The deaths of these children were preventable and the sorrow these families are experiencing does not eclipse the fact that parents, relatives and caregivers are frequently unwittingly the last location for the safety of their children. These children died in their parents’ or grand-parents’ vehicles, in a daycare van, after being left in a vehicle in a daycare parking lot and after being left in a parent’s minivan.

National Highway Traffic Safety Commission (NHTSA) administrator David Strickland says the NHTSA is “working… to educate the public about heatstroke and bring an end to these tragedies.” Sadly, somehow the cautions about heatstroke and the danger of asphyxiation to young children in hot cars are apparently not getting to the people who need to know, or these cautions are not being taken seriously. And we are left asking why these tragedies have happened and what can we do now?

What we can do is, “If you see something, say something!” Don’t be shy about telling the manager of a store if you see a parent has gone into a store…even “only for a minute”… and left young children alone in a car. Tell the manager as soon as possible! Often managers are able to make an announcement on a PA system. Yes, take the license number of the car–Call 911 if you have to, and wait until the police arrive.

If you see a parent going into a store alone–and you are aware they have brought children with them, ask, “Did you bring your children/child? Are they in the car with (a caregiver, parent, relatives) someone? Are the windows rolled down?” Last week, I parked next to an older vehicle in which there was an approximately 10-year old child alone. The windows were rolled up. It was hot. As I got out of my car, the parent came out of the store. The look on my face must have stung–I didn’t have the chance to speak, when she said, “Well, I left the car running and the air conditioning on!” She climbed in the car and drove off. I thought, what if the car ran out of gas or the engine had quit running or fumes from the older car’s exhaust had overcome the child? This particular child had a physical handicap and could not have opened the window herself.

Kids and Cars.org recommends this Look Before You Lock check-list of cautions you can tape to your dashboard and check every time you drive any child anywhere:

Back seat – Place a toy or something else you need (a purse?) in the back seat, so that you have to open the vehicle door when leaving the vehicle–it will remind you to check the back seat for a child or children

Each child passenger should be properly restrained in the back seat of the vehicle

Stuffed animal–Place a stuffed animal in the front seat, to remind you they are with you

Ask a caregiver or childcare provider to call you within 10 minutes if your child has not arrived at their destination or daycare on time

Focus on driving–Distracted driving is a major cause of car crashes

Every time you park your vehicle, open the back door to make sure no one in the car has been left behind!