Summer's here, and that means it can get really hot really fast inside of a car. We've all been horrified by recent news stories involving babies and young children being left in hot cars and either losing their lives or being injured. The DPD's Traffic Unit along with the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are once again warning parents and caregivers of young children to be mindful that a young child can die from heatstroke very quickly if left unattended in a parked car. All summer long, the NHTSA is launching a national radio and internet campaign called "Where's Baby? Look Before You Lock" to reach parents, caregivers, and grandparents about the importance of this issue.
Data from the San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences show a disturbing trend. At least 44 children in the United States lost their lives in 2013 after being left in unattended motor vehicles – and an unknown number of others were moderately to severely injured. The average number of U.S. child heatstroke fatalities per year since 1998 is 38. There have already been two such deaths reported this year.
It doesn't take much to lose a child to heatstroke. When outside temperatures are in the low 80's, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes, even with a window rolled down two inches. Children's bodies in particular overheat easily, and infants and children under four years old are at the greatest risk for heat-related illness.
Heatstroke death and injuries often occur after a child gets into an unlocked vehicle to play without a parent or caregiver's knowledge. Other incidents can occur when a parent or caregiver who is not used to transporting a child as part of their daily routine inadvertently forgets a sleeping infant in a rear-facing seat in the back of the vehicle.
According to a new study by Safe Kids Worldwide, 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. 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.
Young children are particularly at risk because their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult's. When a child's temperature reaches 107 degrees, they die.
The agency first launched the "Where's Baby? Look before you lock," campaign in 2012, after a first- of- its- kind roundtable and series of 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.
NHTSA, Safe Kids, and its safety partners urge parents and caregivers to take the following precautions to prevent heatstroke incidents from occurring:
- Never leave a child 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.
- Ask the childcare provider to call if the child doesn't show up for care as expected.
- Do things that serve as a reminder that a child is in the vehicle, such as placing a purse or briefcase in the back seat to ensure no child is accidentally left in the vehicle, or writing a note or using a stuffed animal placed in the driver's view to indicate a child is in the car seat.
- Teach children that a vehicle is not a play area and store keys out of a child's reach.
In addition the DPD Traffic Unit urge community members who see a child alone in a hot vehicle to immediately call 911. A child in distress due to heat should be removed from the vehicle as quickly as possible and rapidly cooled.
To learn more about NHTSA's "Where's Baby? Look before you lock." campaign, visit www.SaferCar.gov/heatstroke.