Summer is almost here, and with it those lazy days of vacation and fun times with family and friends. But summertime also brings blazing heat and the dangers that come along with it. Climb into your car and you can’t wait to turn on the AC. But a child left in the car doesn’t have that chance.
Every year we hear tragic stories of children left in hot cars and everyone says, “I would never do that.” Yet it still happens. Sometimes a child is left for “just a few minutes” that becomes a longer time, and sometimes the child climbs into an unlocked car and gets trapped. Regardless of how it happens, the tragedy remains a preventable one.
On a 93 degree day it only takes 40 minutes for the temperature to reach 140 degree in the car. Think leaving the windows cracked helps? It doesn’t. Even on sunny days in the 60s it can get hot enough inside a car to cause death. Children’s bodies can overheat 3 times faster than that of an adult so they are especially vulnerable.
Last year 39 children died of heatstroke after being left in cars in the United States. Three of those children died in Georgia. Already in 2017 there have been nine deaths. What can you do to prevent a child from dying of heatstroke in a car?
Look before you lock, then look again – check all seats before you lock the door to be sure nobody has been overlooked and everyone is out of the vehicle. Or leave your cell phone, wallet, or purse in the back seat so you get in the habit of actually opening the back door to look.
Always lock your car – children are naturally inquisitive and often will climb into cars and trunks. If a child goes missing, first check any pools that are nearby, then check all vehicles and open all trunks.
If your child is expected somewhere, like daycare or school, have a plan for the center or school to call you if the child doesn’t arrive.
Never leave a child in the car, not even for a minute. Yes, it is tempting to just run into the store for a minute but often that minute turns into five or more before you even realize it. A mom told me that she was driving home from the grocery store and her baby had just fallen asleep in the car, so she decided to leave the baby to sleep for just a few minutes while she put the groceries in the house. That few minutes turned to 20 before she even realized it. Luckily everything was fine, it was a cool day and baby was unharmed. But mom was horrified at how quickly the time got away from her.
Parents of newborns have no idea how sleep deprived they may be, and how that affects their reasoning and awareness. And we have all gotten distracted and not paid attention like we should. So let’s focus on keeping children safe, and not on the blame.
In addition to heat awareness, having your child correctly in the car seat is also a life saver. Studies show that at least three out of four car seats are either installed wrong in the vehicle or the child is not in the seat correctly. Certified Child Passenger Safety Technicians (CPSTs) can help you with checking your child’s seat. Call Missy Braden at Piedmont Newton Hospital at 770-385-4396 to schedule a seat check. Other CPSTs are available in neighboring counties. There are even a limited number of free car seats available to qualifying families in Georgia through grants funded by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and run through the Department of Public Health, and other sources.
Choosing the right seat for your child can be difficult but don’t let it overwhelm you! It needs to fit the child, fit the vehicle, and be easy enough to use for everyone who needs to use it. Local CPSTs can help you make sure that whatever seat you choose is used correctly.
Let’s make it our goal for no child overheating deaths in Georgia in 2017.
Missy Braden is the First Steps Coordinator and a certified Child Passenger Safety Technician at Piedmont Newton Hospital in Covington