ST. GEORGE — The death of an 8-month-old baby Wednesday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, marks the 11th child to die in a hot car this year – representing a 275 percent increase compared to last year at this same time.
The 8-month-old daughter of a Louisiana school teacher was the second baby to die in a hot car this week. In central New York, the 4-month-old son of a police officer died Monday after being left inside a vehicle while in the care of his 10-year police veteran father.
A child tragically dies due to heatstroke in a vehicle an average of every nine days, according to KidsAndCars.org. Since 1990, more than 750 children have died in these preventable tragedies with 11 of those reported deaths occurring in Utah.
Hyperthermia or heatstroke can happen faster than one might imagine. In just 10 minutes, a car’s temperature can increase by 19 degrees – and will continue to rise. Children or animals left inside a vehicle quickly overheat, resulting in devastating injury, permanent brain damage or death.
Even in 70 degree weather, a vehicle can reach a life-threatening temperature in just minutes. Children overheat three to five times faster than adults. Cracking the windows or using a window shield shade has little to no effect on maintaining a temperature inside the car that is safe for small children.
“The worst thing any parent or caregiver can do is think that this could never happen to them or that they are not capable of unknowingly leaving their child behind,” Janette Fennell, founder and president of KidsAndCars.org, said, adding: “This can and does happen to the most loving, responsible and attentive parents; no one is immune.”
There are a number of factors which contribute to kids being inadvertently forgotten in vehicles. Some of the most common include: changes in normal routine, lack of sleep, stress, distractions and demands of a busy life and hormone changes. Also, young children, especially babies, often fall asleep in their car seats and become very quiet.
Wednesday’s death occurred on the very day advocates were working to raise awareness for National Child Vehicular Heatstroke Prevention and Awareness Day – a day when grieving families sent letters to the Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asking for immediate action on the pervasive problem.
The families are insisting on technology to help prevent parents and caregivers from unknowingly leaving children alone in vehicles.
“This cycle continues year after year as the auto industry refuses to add simple, existing driver-reminder technology to their vehicles, and Federal officials are not giving serious attention to Congressional directives to test available technologies,” according to a media statement issued by KidsAndCars.org Wednesday.
Former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook is also calling on officials to quickly initiate a rulemaking to require a safety standard to include technology that alerts the driver of a vehicle if a child is inadvertently left behind.
Other lifesaving technologies to save children are now standard equipment on all vehicles, Claybrook said in a statement.
“Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH), trunk releases, rear view cameras in 2018, and safer power window switches are great examples where a deadly problem existed and a cost-effective solution was required by the government to make vehicles safer for children,” she said, “and these advancements have saved countless lives.”
Meanwhile, parents and caregivers are encouraged to follow these simple steps to help ensure a safe trip:
- Never leave children unattended in a car
- If you spot a child alone in a car, don’t hesitate, call 911
- Put something needed on that trip in the backseat – like a purse, briefcase or phone – or place a stuffed animal in the front seat as a reminder the child is there
- Always lock your car and ensure children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices
- If a child is missing, check the car first, including the trunk
- Teach your children that vehicles are never to be used as a play area
- Use drive-thru services whenever possible
- Have a plan that your childcare provider will call you if your child does not show up for school
- Be sure that all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don’t overlook sleeping babies
- Make “look before you leave” a routine whenever you get out of the car
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