It may sound like something you would never do. Buckle your child into her car seat, drive to work, rush into your morning meeting, and only later, remember your little girl is still in the back of the car.
But, it’s a scenario that all parents — even the most conscientious — could find themselves in.
Experts warn that children should never be left alone in a car for any amount of time, whether it’s by accident or just to run a quick errand. Heat stroke — especially at this time of year — is a real risk.
Nationally this year, before the end of May, five children had already died from heat-related causes which occurred when they were left alone in cars. Last year was the worst year on record, with 49 children — three in Ohio — dying for similar reasons.
Even in weather as cool as 57 degrees, a car can heat up enough to cause hyperthermia.
“Cars trap the heat, especially on sunny days, and can heat up by 19 degrees in as little as 10 minutes,” said Jessica Saunders, Safe Kids Greater Dayton coordinator.
Children’s bodies don’t regulate heat as well as adults. Their bodies heat up three to five times as fast as those of adults, putting them at risk at temperatures that may not feel dangerous to their parents.
To safeguard your child — or the children of others — follow these tips provided by Safe Kids Greater Dayton:
• Place belongings strategically such as a cell phone, PDA, purse, briefcase, gym bag on the floor in front of a child in a backseat. This forces you to open the back door and observe the child when you reach for your belongings.
• Set your cell phone or Blackberry reminder to be sure you dropped your child off at day care.
• Set your computer “Outlook” program to ask, “Did you drop off at daycare today?”
• Have a plan that if your child is late for daycare that you will be called within a few minutes. Be especially careful if you change your routine for dropping off children.
• Lock cars and trucks. Thirty percent of the recorded heat stroke deaths in the United States occur because a child was playing in an unattended vehicle.
The signs of heat stroke can include: Flushed, hot, dry skin with no sweating; a severe, throbbing headache; sluggishness or fatigue; a seizure; or a body temperature of 105 degrees or higher. If heat stroke is suspected, immediately call 911.
Ohio does not have a specific state law regarding leaving children alone in cars, although it would typically fall under child endangerment statutes.
If you spot a child alone in a vehicle, take action, Saunders said. “We would recommend that people call 911 and try to find the parents,” she said.
Typically, children left behind in a car were left there unintentionally. “We live such busy lives. Even the slightest change to our usual routine can cause this situation,” Saunders said. “It could happen to anyone.”
Safe Kids Greater Dayton recently launched a “Never Leave Your Child Alone in a Car” campaign to raise awareness for parents and caregivers.
For prevention tips, visit www.safekids.org/nlyca or www.ggweather.com/heat.
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