Thursday, August 16, 2012

Summer Child Safety

When I get out of bed in the morning, I go to the kitchen and brew myself a cup of coffee. While the cup is filling I turn on my laptop and let it boot up while I add cream and Splenda. Then I sit down and check my emails and my Facebook feed while I listen to the Today Show. Every half hour I get a local news and weather update.

This morning, for the fourth or fifth time this summer, there was a story about a child who was left in a child safety seat in a hot car. This particular story was a local one and, thankfully, had a happy ending. Some passers-by saw the child slumped in the seat and sweating profusely. They intervened, forced the window down, got the child out, and called 911.

Our Little Princesses in their car seats

Every state and the District of Columbia has laws requiring children to be restrained in car safety seats. And every summer there are numerous news stories about children left in car seats. It's so easy to forget them if they're sleeping or in a rear-facing seat.

According to a report by the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University, there have been at least 23 deaths of children left in cars in 2012. In 2011, 33 children died. From 1998 to the present, at lest 550 children died of hyperthermia from being left in a hot car. That's an average of 38 per year for the past 15 years.

The same report states that, according to media reports, 52% of these children died because they were "forgotten" by the caregiver. 53% of the deaths were children under the age of 2 years old.

Safe Kids Worldwide reports that "a child can die from heat stroke on a 72-degree day. There’s a medical reason why this happens to children - their bodies aren’t the same as adults. A child’s body can heat up five times faster than an adult’s."

The Weather Channel has a great graphic slideshow that shows how the interior of a car becomes an oven on a hot day. When the outdoor temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit, within 10 minutes the interior of a car is 109 degrees; at 20 minutes the temperature rises to 119. After 30 minutes, interior temperatures are 124. In an hour, a car's interior temperature will reach 133 degrees. That's 43 degrees hotter than the temperature outside the car. At that extreme temperature there is a risk of heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke. After 90 minutes, the interior of a car reaches 138 degrees, a virtual oven hot enough to lead to the death of any child left in a car on a hot day.

An email from Johnny Humphreys, Chair of the Texas Task Force, Safe Kids Never Leave Your Child Alone in a Car, reports that there were 7 child deaths due to heat in cars in the U. S. during the first 6 days of August.

There are programs and task forces all over the United States designed to remind people not to leave their children alone in a car or to let their children play unsupervised in or around a car. Catch phrases include "Look Before You Lock" and "Never Leave Your Child Alone in a Car." But catch phrases are not cutting it.

Why aren't there safety devices built into cars or car seats that will remind the driver that there is a child in the car. My seat belt reminder dings if I don't buckle the seat belt. Clearly it knows whether or not someone is sitting there. Similar technology should be added to back seats and child safety seats. The technology already exists. AJ at Thingamababy wrote about three different Car Heat Safety Devices in 2007.

Until these devices are added and required, Safe Kids USA provides the following tips.
  • Lock cars and trucks.  Thirty percent of the recorded heat stroke deaths in the U.S. occur because a child was playing in an unattended vehicle.  These deaths can be prevented by simply locking the vehicle doors to help assure that kids don’t enter the vehicles and become trapped.
  • Create reminders.  Many child heat stroke deaths occur because parents and caregivers become distracted and exit their vehicle without their child.  To help prevent these tragedies parents can:
    • Place a cell phone, PDA, purse, briefcase, gym bag or something that is needed at your next stop on the floor in front of a child in a backseat. This will help you see your child when you open the rear door and reach for your belongings. 
    • Set the alarm on your cell phone/smartphone as a reminder to you to drop your child off at day care. 
    • Set your computer calendar program to ask, “Did you drop off at daycare today?”  Establish a plan with your daycare that if your child fails to arrive within an agreed upon time that you will be called within a few minutes.  Be especially mindful of your child if you change your routine for daycare.
  • Dial 911 immediately if you see an unattended child in a car.  EMS professionals are trained to determine if a child is in trouble.  The body temperature of children rises 3 - 5 times faster than adults, and as a result, children are much more vulnerable to heat stroke.  Check vehicles and trunks FIRST if a child is missing.

I like all of these tips, but I think the best one is to place an item that you will need in the back seat. It's so easy to see how a child, especially a very small child, could be forgotten in the back seat. Grandparents, take heed of these statistics and tips. None of us want any of our grandchildren to be part of this story.

Button pic 9


  1. Excellent post, and excellent tips. I just read that the sensors that are supposed to alert you when a child is still in the car haven't proven reliable. It seems as if it would be an easy thing to design, but this article said no. I've searched for the piece, but haven't unearthed it. If I find it, I'll post a link. In the meantime, the precautions that you list are excellent ones.

  2. Great post and a very frightening subject. My daughter and I called 911 once on a car in a restaurant parking lot. It was very hot that day and this child was maybe 4 or 5. When the police came Dad came out of the car dealership next door where he was in a meeting. The child was fine so the police did nothing except tell him to take his son inside with him. I didn't think that was quite enough.

  3. It's just crazy how this keeps happening over and over! I start my days off very similar to you and I heard that today on the news again! Great post and I really liked the reminders you suggested; do something to remind you to check and recheck! thanks for linking with me.

  4. Unfortunately no matter what legislation is put in place children will be left in cars. In New Zealand it is illegal to leave a child at home or in the car by themselves under the age of 14.

  5. Wonderful post / heartbreaking when I read those stories...and I've read several this summer. A few involve day care centers where a simple checklist of attendance would have saved a life.

  6. Great tips. I cannot imagine the horror and guilt folks go through after making a horrendous mistake and leaving a child by accident. I've heard so many stories of harried parents and grandparents simply forgetting. I personally don't know how that could happen, but it clearly does. Such tragedies. Great post and pointers and something we all should remember.

  7. It's hard to imagine it happening when it's someone else's child, but the parents who forget are distracted, unusually stressed and usually have a different day care routine than normal. I investigated this issue when a veteranarian left her child in the back seat all day, thinking it was her husband's day to go to day care just down the road in my hometown. So sad.