Extension Agent: Never leave children alone in or around cars

By Erika Bochat
July 8, 2014 at 2:08 a.m.

Erika Bochat

Erika Bochat

As we approach summer in Texas, the danger of children dying from being left unattended in vehicles increases. With warmer weather comes an increasing risk of children being left alone in vehicles and succumbing to heatstroke.

As of June 30, there have been 13 child deaths in hot vehicles during 2014 in the United States, including two in Texas. One recent death took place in Cobb County, Ga., on June 18. There have been 619 child vehicular heat deaths in the U. S. since 1998, an average of 38 per year, according to a Texas Heatstroke Task Force.

Sadly, more than half of the deaths involve a child being forgotten in the vehicle by a parent of caregiver. Children are also at risk from injury because of back-overs, the releasing of the gear shift or engaging electric windows or becoming trapped inside vehicles or trunks. Safe Kids USA has launched a campaign called ACT. ACT stands for: Avoid heatstroke-related injury, create reminders and take action. The campaign is designed to link together these simple heatstroke prevention steps.

The problem is that temperatures in parked vehicles rise very quickly. According to figures from San Francisco State University's Department of Geosciences, in just 10 minutes, the temperature inside of a vehicle can increase by almost 20 degrees.

A child's body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult's, making children more vulnerable to a deadly condition known as hyperthermia, or heatstroke. Heatstroke can occur at body temperatures above 104 degrees. Even mild outside temperatures can pose a threat, but with Texas temperatures climbing into the upper 90s each day, the danger becomes even greater.

Statistics from San Francisco State University show that Texas leads the nation with the highest number of vehicle heatstroke deaths during the years 1998-2013, with 92 deaths during that time. Nationally, there have already been two deaths due to heatstroke so far in 2014, with one having occurred in Texas. Last year in Texas, there were five vehicle heat-related deaths. Nationally, there were 44, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In more than half of the cases during that time period, the death was due to the child being forgotten by the caregiver. Such deaths are preventable when parents take precautions to make sure that children are not left alone in vehicles and cannot gain access to unlocked vehicles.

According to Safe Kids, one-third of the heat-related deaths in 2000 were because of children becoming trapped in a vehicle they had crawled into. Despite the dangers of leaving young children alone in hot cars, a significant number of parents, particularly dads and those with children 3 years of age and younger, say they have left children alone in a parked cars, according to a national online survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies of Washington, D.C.

The study was commissioned by Safe Kids Worldwide, and results were announced during this year's Lifesavers Conference in Nashville in April.

The survey showed:

69 percent of parents said they have heard about children suffering heatstroke in vehicles.

14 percent of parents (estimated to be nearly 2 million parents transporting more than 3.3 million children) say they have intentionally left their infants, toddlers and kindergarten children alone in a parked vehicle. For parents of children ages 3 and under, the percentage increases to 23 percent.

11 percent of parents admit to forgetting their child in a car. For those with children ages 3 and under, it is nearly 1 in 4.

Dads are almost three times more likely than moms to leave a child alone in a parked car (23 percent compared to 8 percent).

6 percent of parents are comfortable letting their children stay in a parked vehicle longer than 15 minutes.

Look for the ACT and Never Leave Your Child Alone in a Car campaign promotions, and follow these safety tips from National Safe Kids:

Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death.

Never leave your child alone in the car, even for a minute.

Consistently lock unattended vehicle doors and trunks.

Create reminders and habits that give you and your child's caregiver a safety net.

Establish a peace-of-mind plan. When you drop off your child, make a habit of calling or texting all other caregivers, so all of you know where your child is at all times.

Place a purse, briefcase, gym bag, cellphone or another item in a back seat that will be needed at your next stop.

Set the alarm on your cell phone or computer calendar as a reminder to drop your child off at childcare.

Take action if you see an unattended child in a vehicle.

Dial 911 immediately, and follow the instructions provided by emergency personnel - they are trained to determine if a child is in danger.

Remember, children should never be left alone around cars. Although many parents may think that this will never happen to them, it is a tragedy that can and has happened to many families. It is important that parents talk to their babysitters, grandparents, and others who care for their children to make them aware of the dangers of hyperthermia deaths.

To learn more, visit nlyca.safekidsweb.org/resources.

To learn more about child safety topics, contact your local Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service county office at 361-575-4581 or email me at erika.bochat@ag.tamu.edu.

Erika Bochat is a Victoria County extension agent-Family and Consumer Sciences.



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