Set Up System to Prevent Tragic Heatstroke Accidents
AMES, Iowa – Every year, children die from being left in hot cars. According to the nonprofit safety group Kids and Cars, more than 600 U.S. children have died from overheating in a parked vehicle since 1990.
“The tragedy of a child dying in a hot car can be prevented. Parents and caregivers need to set up a system that reduces the risk,” says Malisa Rader, an Iowa State University Extension and Outreach family life program specialist.
Most of those deaths happen as loving, responsible parents unintentionally leave a child in the backseat in a rear-facing car seat. The backseat is the safest place for children to travel, but this can lead to a child being out of a driver’s sight, Rader said
“Add to that a sleeping baby, a bit of stress or an unusual morning routine,” Rader said, “and the risk increases of forgetting to drop a child off at child care.” Running late, someone different dropping the child off, new work routines or traffic detours – each of these changes from the normal routine could potentially lead to the unthinkable happening.
What Parents and Caregivers Need to Know
The sun shining through car windows makes the car work like an oven. In just 10 minutes a car’s temperature can increase by 19 degrees and it continues to rise as time goes on. Children are more at risk for heat-related illness than adults, because their bodies make more heat relative to their size and they have not fully developed the capacity to perspire like adults. As a result, this makes being locked in a warm car, for even a short time, potentially fatal.
The results of a recent survey published on the SafeKids.org website stated that 11 percent of parents admit to forgetting their child in a car. Most likely due to the change in routine, dads are nearly three times more likely than moms to leave a child in a parked car.
What to Do
“A simple reminder is to place something you will be needing in the back seat with your child like a cell phone, purse or laptop,” Rader said. Some safety groups urge parents to place their left shoe in the back seat before driving – a clear reminder when getting out of the car that there is precious cargo in the backseat.
Rader offers these additional suggestions to reduce the risk of forgetting a sleeping child in the car.
- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a "Look Before You Lock" campaign that reminds parents to make a habit of checking the backseat each and every time they exit the vehicle.
- Place a stuffed animal in the car seat when not in use. When placing the child in the car seat, move the stuffed animal to a visible location in the car like a cup holder.
- “Set your cell phone or calendar reminder to go off at the same time each day to remind you that the baby should have been dropped off at child care,” Rader said.
- “If a different person than usual is completing the morning drop-off, have the person call you when leaving the child care program,” she said.
- “Make an agreement with your child’s caregiver that you will call by a certain time if your child will not be coming to child care, and that the caregiver will call you if your child does not arrive when expected,” Rader said.
Set a Good Example
“Creating multiple safety nets around transporting children will help to ensure safe arrivals,” Rader said. “So, be sure to slow down and pay attention to routines, especially when there is a change in the typical procedure.” Become vigilant about looking in the vehicle before locking the door. Always look in the backseat before walking away from the vehicle — always.
Iowans can call ISU Extension and Outreach’s Iowa Concern Hotline, 800-447-1985, for help and referrals for dealing with stress, crisis and loss.
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