WASHINGTON – A teenage father in Sacramento goes on a date and leaves his 5-month-old daughter in his hot car for about 30 minutes, but she is saved by a passerby who calls police. A 47-year-old father goes out drinking and leaves his one-year-old son in his hot car in Northern California – police arrest him for child cruelty. A single mother of nine children reported her two-year-old missing, but police found the toddler locked up in the back seat of her hot car in Texas – the child died of hypothermia.
These stories illustrate what happens every year across the country. Busy parents, careless decisions and sometimes intentional actions left children alone in a sweltering hot car where they were either injured or killed. In fact, last year 33 children under 14 years old died in the United States while locked inside a hot motor vehicle.
So this year the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to put an end to these types of accidental deaths and inform those who may carelessly leave children in hot cars.
“This campaign is a call-to-action for parents and families, but also for everyone in every community that cares about the safety of children,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “It is hope that the simple tips from this campaign will save lives and help families avoid unnecessary heartache.”
The children who do not die are often injured as a result of heatstroke in hot cars, suffering ailments including permanent brain injury, blindness, and the loss of hearing, among others. Heatstroke deaths and injuries are also the result of children playing in an unlocked vehicle without the parent’s knowledge. Also, new caregivers transporting a child inadvertently forget a sleeping infant in a rear-facing car seat in the back of the vehicle.
Anyone who sees a child alone in a hot vehicle should call 911 immediately. If the child is in distress due to heat they should be removed from the vehicle as quickly as possible and rapidly cooled.
“I tell my clients to place something like your purse or cell phone next to the child’s car seat every time you travel together to help ensure they will not forgot the baby,” said Attorney West Thomas, founder of the Thomas Law Firm in Irvine.
As summer approaches, the NHTSA is gearing up for its first national campaign to prevent child heatstroke deaths in vehicles by urging parents and caregivers to ask themselves “Where’s baby? Look before you lock.” A series of radio and online advertisements is set to begin in the next few weeks. Additionally, the NHTSA is providing a tool kit for parents and grassroots organizations to use for outreach on this issue.
The San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences reports 33 children died last year due to heatstroke – medically termed “hyperthermia” – a significant decline from the 49 deaths reported in 2010. A recent study by the university that studied 443 hyperthermia deaths between 1998 and 2009 showed roughly 51% of the cases were accidental. About 30% of the children who died were playing inside the car unattended and approximately 18% were intentionally left in the vehicles by parents running errands or meeting with friends.
The decline last year highlights efforts last year by the NHTSA to combat the problem nationwide. The agency last summer hosted a first-of-its-kind roundtable on heat-stroke and series of town hall discussions around the country that brought together representatives from the automotive industry, child safety advocates, health and safety professionals, members of the academic community, and victims.
“Everything we know about this terrible danger to children indicates heatstroke in hot cars can happen to any caregiver from any walk of life – and the majority of these cases are accidental tragedies that can strike even the most loving and conscientious parents,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “We hope our campaign not only helps caregivers avoid accidentally harming a child but also clears up some of the misconceptions about the causes of child heatstroke in cars.”
NHTSA plans to release its findings on the effectiveness of its after-market products that are intended to prevent a child from being unintentionally left behind in an enclosed parked vehicle.
NHTSA’s “Where’s baby? Look before you lock” campaign urges parents and caregivers to take important precautions to prevent inadvertent incidents from occurring:
• Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle – even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on
• Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away
• Ask the childcare provider to call if the child does not show up for care as expected
• Do things that serve as a reminder a child is in the vehicle, such as placing a purse or briefcase in the back seat to ensure no child is accidently left in the vehicle, writing a note or using a stuffed animal placed in the driver’s view to indicate a child is in the car seat
• Teach children a vehicle is not a play area and store keys out of a child’s reach
The Thomas Law Firm can be reached at 1-855-ASK–WEST. For over 30 years, the firm has been a staunch advocate for victims’ rights and has fought for clients involved in personal injury and wrongful death cases, including premises liability, product liability, auto accidents, dog bites, nursing home negligence, medical malpractice, at-work injuries and more. The firm has offices in Irvine, Riverside, Los Angeles and San Bernardino, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada.