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Hot-Car Deaths on the Rise

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Rising temperatures this summer have been accompanied by a rise in the number of deaths of children left or trapped in unattended cars. Yes, most of us have heard the importance of never, ever (not even for that it’ll-just-take-a-minute-to-grab-a-gallon-of-milk run into the store) leaving our kids unattended in a car, especially during warmer months. But yet, sadly, since the beginning of this year, 18 kids have died from hyperthermia (heatstroke) in unattended cars– a record high since record keeping began in 1998. And summer has only just begun.

But, it’s not as if most of these children were the victims of cruel, neglectful parents or caregivers. In many of these instances, a minor change in the family’s daily routine led to horrific, unimaginable consequences. So, especially during the summer months – when families may be most likely to have shifting schedules with daycare, camp, grandma’s house, and so on – please take a look at these safety tips from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):

  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle.
  • Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle, even if the windows are partially open or with the engine running and the air conditioning on.
  • Make a habit of looking in the vehicle -- front and back -- before locking the door and walking away.
  • If you are bringing your child to daycare, and normally it's your spouse or partner who brings them, have your spouse or partner call you to make sure everything went according to plan.
  • Ask your childcare provider to call you if your child does not show up for childcare. Do things to remind yourself that a child is in the vehicle, such as:
    • Writing yourself a note and putting the note where you will see it when you leave the vehicle;
    • Placing your purse, briefcase or something else you need in the back seat so that you will have to check the back seat when you leave the vehicle; or
    • Keeping an object in the car seat, such as a stuffed toy. When the child is buckled in, place the object where the driver will notice it when he or she is leaving the vehicle.
    • If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call the police. If they are in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible. Warning signs may include: red, hot, and moist or dry skin, no sweating, a strong rapid pulse or a slow weak pulse, nausea or acting strangely. Cool the child rapidly. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

And beyond double-checking to confirm that you haven’t inadvertently forgotten a sleeping child in the car, the NHTSA also warns of the related danger of a child entering an unlocked vehicle and becoming trapped. To avoid such a preventable tragedy, make sure to always lock your car and trunk (regardless of how safe your neighborhood is!) and keep the keys out of reach.

Finally, this kind of disaster can happen shockingly quickly. Even if the weather outside is in the 60s, the temperature inside your car can reach well above 110 degrees Fahrenheit, rising almost 20 degrees within the first 10 minutes. This oven-effect in cars is compounded by the fact that children’s bodies overheat easily – in fact, a young child’s body temperature may increase three to five times as fast as an adult.

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