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Never Leave A Child Alone in a Car

July 4, 2013
Never leave a child alone in a car

Note: This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post. Since its original publication five more children have died from heatstroke in cars in the United States. 

Fourth of July -- it's here. And it's the perfect time to gather with family and friends for barbecue and fireworks. Here's a reminder: As summer temperatures continue to reach record highs across the country, it's important to remember that while these summer days are great for the pool and the beach, they're not so good for the inside of cars, which can raise to deadly temperatures in a very short period of time.

Sadly, in just the last two months, 15 children have died from heatstroke in hot cars. These tragedies happened in nine different states, from Texas and Florida to Idaho and Minnesota. They happened in temperatures as hot as 100 degrees and as mild as 76 degrees. They are heartbreaking and preventable, and a reminder for all of us to be aware of the dangers of leaving a child alone in a hot car.

Many people are shocked to learn how hot the inside of a car can actually get. On an 80 degree day, the temperature inside of a car can rise 19 degrees in 10 minutes and keep getting hotter with each passing minute. You can only imagine what happens when the temperature outside is 100 degrees or more, as it is projected to be in many places around the country this weekend. And cracking the window doesn't help.

Heatstroke sets in when the body isn't able to cool itself quickly enough. Young children are particularly at risk, as their bodies heat up 3 to 5 times faster than an adult's. When a child's internal temperature reaches 104 degrees, major organs begin to shut down. When that child's temperature reaches 107 degrees, the child can die.

Since 1998, at least 575 children across the United States have died in cars from heatstroke -- that's one child every 10 days.

These deaths happens in one of three ways. More than half occur when a driver forgets that the child is in the car. Experts will tell you this can happen to anybody. Our busy lifestyles create enough stress to trigger mental "lapses," which can bury a thought and cause your brain to go on autopilot. The lapses can affect something as simple as misplacing your keys or something as crucial as forgetting a baby.

Almost 30 percent of the time, children get into a car on their own. Kids love to pretend they're driving. They find a way into the car, but sometimes, they can't find a way out.

The third scenario is when someone intentionally leaves a child alone in a car. A parent might be running an errand and think, "The baby just fell asleep. I'll just be gone for a second." But seconds turn into minutes, and before you know it, the temperature inside of the car has reached lethal levels.

The key to preventing these tragedies is for every parent and caregiver to understand that this can happen to anybody. It can also be avoided with a little awareness and by taking a few simple precautions.

At Safe Kids, we're working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, led by Administrator David Strickland, and committed partners such as the General Motors Foundation, to spread the word about heatstroke and bring an end to these tragedies.

We're asking everyone to help protect kids by remembering to ACT:
A: Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you're not in it so kids don't get in on their own.

C: Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car next to your child such as a briefcase, a purse or a cell phone that is needed at your final destination. This is especially important if you're not following your normal routine.

T: Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations. One call could save a life.

By spreading the word, taking just a few precautions and looking out for each other during this holiday weekend and beyond, we can make sure that no family has to experience the tragedy of losing a child to heatstroke. Working together, I know we can.