Heat can kill, and the most vulnerable among us require our full attention for their safety.
The American Academy of Pediatrics cites a study that shows when the outside temperature is 80 degrees, a vehicle’s interior will rise to about 110 degrees in just 20 minutes. At 60 minutes, the mercury can soar past the 120-degree mark. So on an even more sweltering, humid day, it gets hotter faster. Indeed, a child left unattended in a hot car can die of heatstroke very quickly, since according to the AAP their body temperature can spike three to five times faster than that of an adult.
Our community has felt that pain. Seven years ago, a 17-month-old boy died after he was mistakenly left alone inside a hot sport utility vehicle at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Federal prosecutors eventually dropped a manslaughter charge against the toddler’s father, and they later dropped a lesser unattended-child charge as well, after a federal magistrate ruled that prosecutors would have to prove an element of “knowledge or intent” on the man’s part. As the father tragically testified, he simply forgot his son was in the vehicle that morning.
That is scary to think about.
But don’t kid yourself. Even the most caring parent could inadvertently put a child in harm’s way. “Any parent or caregiver, even a very loving and attentive one, can forget a child is in the back seat. Being especially busy or distracted or having a change from the usual routine increases the risk,” the AAP says.
Our lives are so full of distractions these days that it is frighteningly easy to see how a child could be left in a car. Just recently, a woman in Florida left a child in a car for nearly seven hours and her explanation to police was that she “got distracted.” She has been charged with aggravated manslaughter of a child.
The AAP and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offer a number of suggestions to prevent this from happening.
“Always check the back seat and make sure all children are out of the car before locking it and walking away,” the AAP recommends. “Put your cellphone, bag or purse in the back seat.”
Some car makers have begun to include alert systems to remind drivers to check behind them when they reach their destination. The NHTSA also suggests keeping a stuffed animal or other children’s item in the car seat when your child is not sitting in it. Move the item to the front seat when your child is riding in the back. That plush toy riding shotgun will serve as a visual reminder that you have another passenger in the back, the NHTSA states.
Changes in routine are a big risk factor. “Be extra alert when there is a change in your routine, like when someone else is driving your child or you take a different route to work or child care,” the NHTSA says. A change in the family’s daily routine was a factor in the St. Mary’s toddler’s death in 2014, according to the investigation.
If you see a child in a hot car, call 911 immediately. The AAP recommends taking action to get the child out of the car if he or she is unresponsive or in pain. If the child is responsive, stay with him or her until help arrives and have someone search for the driver in the meantime.
Also keep in mind that hot cars kill pets, too. If you come across a pet locked in a hot car, take down the vehicle information and go to a nearby business. Ask the manager, security guard or other employees to make an announcement.
Please be mindful of the dangers a hot car poses. By taking extra precautions — such as simply doing a double-take to remind yourself that a child or a pet is in your vehicle — we can avoid needless suffering.