Summer time is here and with it all the sunshine and fun families expect. But it also comes with extra dangers, from swimming and sunscreens to children hurt, injured or dead after being left in a car. Approximately 30-40 infants die each year after being left in the car during the hot summer months.
Fast facts about infant car deaths
Cars parked in direct sunlight can reach internal temperatures up to 131° F – 172° F (55° C – 78° C) when outside temperatures are 80° F – 100° F (27° C – 38° C).
The interior of a car left outside on an 80 degree day can reach 99 degrees in 10 minutes. By the time it is 107 a child can die of heatstroke.
According to the Medical College of Wisconsin, “Children’s bodies have greater surface area to body mass ratio, so they absorb more heat on a hot day (and lose heat more rapidly on a cold day). Further, children have a considerably lower sweating capacity than adults, and so they are less able to dissipate body heat by evaporative sweating and cooling.” This means that in any circumstance your child will feel warmer than you do when outside playing or sitting in a car.
Approximately 15 states currently have laws against leaving a child alone in a car.
This year in spite of many warnings last year and the show on Oprah regarding a mother and school administrator who left her child in a hot car while she worked all day, there have already been a number of deaths to children who were accidentally left in a car. On April 20, 2010, a 7 month old baby was found dead in the car of a family in Antioch, California. Each parent thought the other had cared for the child, and in the assumption, no one did. The high temperature that day, 72. April 23, 2010 a 21month old toddler died from heatstroke after being left in a car all day while his mother was working in a school in Monroe County, Georgia.
How do infants and toddlers get left inside cars?
Changes in routine: Many times in the morning parents are functioning on auto pilot. If you are accustomed to someone else dropping your child off at daycare it is easy to forget where you needed to go. I know there have been days when I have pulled out and turned one down one street because that’s my routine, to only have to make a U-turn and go back in the direction I needed to because the routine has changed.
Feeling overwhelmed: According to the mother on “Oprah” she was feeling overwhelmed between work, school, children, marriage, and other matters. All parents start to feel overwhelmed sometimes, but it’s important to not let those feelings make it impossible for you to care for your children. Set up a support system to talk to when you are feeling that way and get the help you need.
Multitasking: How often are we doing more than one thing on our way to and from work? While combining car trips makes environmentally friendly driving sense, it can also cause us to forget important details. Talking on the phone, texting, and even listening to books or CD’s in the car can cause distractions for you. Concentrate on the tasks at hand; which are getting you and your child to school, daycare, or work safely.
Falling asleep: We all know one of the fastest ways to get our children to go to sleep is to put them in a car. For me to accidentally leave a 4 yr old and 3 yr old in my car would be almost impossible. They would have something to say about it. But infants, babies and toddlers commonly fall asleep in the car.
Who does this happen to? It could never happen to me!
It can happen to anyone and it has. It has happened to teachers, engineers, doctors and even a rocket scientist. It’s not about education, experience or how much you make. It is about slowing down, taking time and being prepared.
Eight tips for keeping your baby safe from death or injury in a hot car
Avoid changes in routine, or make a note on your cell phone, calendar or PDA with an alarm on days when there are changes.
Set your purse, diaper bag, briefcase or laptop bag in the backseat where your children are seated. This will help you because as you get out of the car and retrieve your items you will be reminded that your children are depending on you to get them to school or daycare safely.
Set up a checkpoint system. Have a significant other text, call, or email you and ask how the “drop off” went today. This way you can share the joys (and the tears) of your baby or child’s drop off experience and make sure that they made it to their caregiver safely.
Work with your day care provider. Tell your child care provider you will always call if your child will not be in attendance. Ask her to call you if you have not arrived and drop your child off – just to make sure all is well.
Slow down and do less in the mornings or after work, this way you can safely get things done. It may mean more trips to the grocery store or gas station, but it also means your family may be just a little bit safer.
Have a safety buddy. Place a toy in the front seat when your child is in the car in a spot where you are likely to see it. That serves as a reminder to you that your child is in the car.
Take your children inside the home, and then unload groceries, dry cleaning and other items.
Consider one of these car seat alarm system alternatives; The Child Presence Sensor, The Halo Baby Seat Safety System, and “The Child Minder.”
Leaving the car running and the air conditioner on is not an answer. Children are at risk for other injuries or abduction.
If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Don’t confront the caregiver or parent if they do arrive as you don’t know how they will react. Never leave a child unattended in a car.
For more information on this topic visit: National SAFE KIDS Campaign; Kids ‘N Cars at ; and 4 R Kids Sake. Or contact a car seat manufacturer with your petition to include the safety devices mentioned in this article.
Preventing Heat Stress in Children and Adolescents.” Medical College of Wisconsin Health Link, July 23, 2001
http://www.barnesville.com/archives/2377-Monroe-toddler-left-in-car-dead;-victim-identified.htmlDepartment of Geosciences at San Francisco State University