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Child Heat Stroke Deaths In Cars Hit Sad Milestone


2011 Toyota Sienna SE: photo by Todd Allen

2011 Toyota Sienna SE: photo by Todd Allen

On the last day of May, a three-year-old boy in New Orleans died of heat stroke in a car, making him the 500th such death since 1998.

The victim had been left alone in a car all day. Just think about that – left by himself the entire day in a car. He died from heat stroke (or hyperthermia), which occurs when the body’s thermostat overheats. And children, whose bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults, are at a great risk for heat stroke. While we don’t know the specifics of this particular case, it appears as if the child was simply forgotten.

We wish we didn’t have to report such senseless – and totally preventable – tragedies. But the fact is that parents and caregivers are still not getting the message about the dangers of leaving their children alone in a car. SAFE Kids USA reports that an average of 38 child heat stroke deaths occurs each year – and in about half of those cases, the children were just forgotten. Last year alone, 49 children died as a result of heat stroke in a car. The 500th victim is the latest recorded from 1998-2011.

Avoid child heat stroke deaths in cars

FamilyCarGuide has written about this issue before (see the article here), but the precautions certainly bear repeating. SAFE Kids USA and a network of 600 coalitions and chapters earlier this year launched the “Never Leave Your Child Alone in the Car” campaign. The campaign is a key component of SAFE Kids USA’s “Safe Kids Buckle Up” child passenger safety program sponsored by the General Motors Foundation.

According to SAFE Kids USA, know and take action on the following:

Lock car doors and trunks. Here’s a chilling statistic: 30 percent of the recorded child heat stroke deaths occur because a child was playing in an unattended vehicle. The simple solution is to lock all the car’s doors and the trunk so that children can’t have access to the vehicle and become trapped inside.

Give yourself reminders. If parents or caregivers are likely to be distracted – and even if they feel they’re totally responsible – the practice of creating reminders can avoid a tragedy. Use the alarm feature on cell phones and smart phones to remind you to drop off children at daycare. Put whatever you need at your next stop -- purse, cell phone, PDA, briefcase, gym bag -- on the back seat floor in front of your child as a reminder that your child is there. Establish a plan with daycare center to call you if your child isn’t dropped off as scheduled. Set your computer calendar to ask if you’ve dropped off your child at daycare today.

Dial 911 if you see a child alone in a car.
You may not know whether the child is in trouble or not simply by looking at him or her. EMS professionals do know, however, and can take action that may save the child’s life. Remember that children are much more vulnerable to heat stroke than adults.

Check car and trunk first if a child is missing.
Maybe you forgot to lock the car or your child somehow retrieved your keys. If your child is missing, the first place to look is in the car and the trunk.

[SAFE Kids USA via PR Newswire, Department of Geosciences]

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