WASHINGTON — Regrettably, Safe Kids USA has announced the 500th child death due to heat stroke from being left alone in a vehicle. Recently, a 3-year-old boy in New Orleans died from heat stroke after being trapped in a vehicle all day.
Heat stroke occurs when a body’s thermostat is overloaded with heat; children are at a great risk of this as their body heats up three to five times faster than adults. This horrific, yet extremely preventable tragedy happens far too often — an average of 38 deaths per year.
In more than half of the cases, these children are simply “forgotten” by a distracted driver when they arrive at their destination.
Earlier this year, Safe Kids USA and a network of 600 coalitions and chapters launched the Never Leave Your Child Alone in a Car campaign. NLYCA has united and mobilized a wide range of partners — police and fire, hospitals, government agencies, child care centers, businesses and others — to share with parents and other caregivers prevention messages to address the dangers to children in vehicles.
Safe Kids has already launched two national press conferences as well as 28 local events across the country. The campaign consists of an extensive media push with resources in how to prevent this fatal distraction.
“These tragedies happen more often than one would think, even at temperatures in the low 50s. And unfortunately, the number of heat stroke deaths from children being unattended in vehicles is trending upwards — as of today, 500 children have fallen victim to this tragedy,” said Meri-K Appy, president of Safe Kids USA.
“That’s why our goal is to create awareness and educate the millions of drivers on ways to stop these heartbreaks. In addition to our campaign, Safe Kids USA has sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to cohost a meeting to discuss prevention of heat-related deaths.”
“Don’t be fooled into thinking that this can never happen to you. Unfortunately, I did,” says Reggie McKinnon, a father who accidentally left his 8-month-old in a vehicle last year during a work day.
“Before this accident, every time I would read of a child dying in a parked car of hyperthermia, I too would ask, ‘How could they forget their child?’ I would never do that. That only happens to people who are uneducated, drunk, drug-addicts, not me.”
“There is no greater tragedy for a parent or caregiver than to suffer the loss of a child due to hyperthermia,” said administrator David Strickland, U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“It’s vital that children never be left unattended in a vehicle and keys are kept out of a child’s reach. We urge all parents and caregivers to make a habit of looking in the vehicle — front and back — before locking the door and walking away. If a child is missing, check the vehicle, including the trunk.”
Appy added, “Advanced technologies may help prevent child heat stroke deaths in vehicles and Safe Kids urges child seat manufacturers and automakers to continue research and development of these technologies. However, the near-term emphasis must remain on education and awareness as it will take years for technology solutions to become widespread.”
Here’s what parents and caregivers need to know and why:
• Lock cars and trucks. 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 help assure that kids don’t enter the vehicles and become trapped.
• Create reminders. Many child heat stroke deaths occur because parents and caregivers become distracted and exit their vehicle without their child.
To help prevent these tragedies parents can: Place a cell phone, PDA, purse, briefcase, gym bag or something that is needed 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.
• Set the alarm on your cell phone/smartphone as a reminder to you to drop your child off at day care. Set your computer calendar program to ask, “Did you drop off at daycare today?” Establish a plan with your daycare that if your child fails to arrive within an agreed upon time that you will be called within a few minutes. Be especially mindful of your child if you change your routine for daycare.
Dial 911 immediately if you see an unattended child in a car. EMS professionals are trained to determine if a child is in trouble. The body temperature of children rises 3-5 times faster than adults, and as a result, children are much more vulnerable to heat stroke. Check vehicles and trunks FIRST if a child is missing.