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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
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Look Before You Lock

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Des Moines police were called to a hospital after doctors became suspicious over the cause of a young child’s death. Responding officers learned that the 6-month-old infant had died after reportedly being left inside a sweltering car “for an extended period of time” while his father visited a barber shop. When the father returned to his car, he found his son and drove to the hospital, where the baby was pronounced dead.

The National Weather Service showed the high temperature in Des Moines that day was 91. If left in the sun, the temperature in the car would have climbed well into the triple digits. The negligent father was arrested and charged with child endangerment resulting in death. The incident remains under investigation.

Last week, an eight-month-old child from Baton Rouge died of suspected hyperthermia after being left alone in a parked car for 2½ hours while her father was at work. The child’s father told police that when returned to his car during his lunch break, he heard a coughing noise from the backseat and saw fluid dripping from the baby’s nose. He said that he was supposed to drop his daughter off at a day care but forgot, instead following his normal daily routine.

These recent deaths mark the eleventh and twelfth children who have died in the U.S. this year of vehicular heatstroke, representing a 275% increase compared to last year at this time, according to KidsAndCars.org, the leading national nonprofit child safety organization working solely to prevent injuries and deaths of children in and around motor vehicles.

In another incident, Des Moines police received a call about a young child left alone in a hot vehicle outside a grocery store. Patrons and a store clerk called police after discovering the child alone in the hot car with the vehicle running. The child’s mother reportedly walked out of the store with a six-pack of beer before police arrived. The store clerk and a customer tried to stop her, but she sped off. Responding police were able to apprehend and arrest the woman. Although the heat index at the time was approximately 96 degrees, the child luckily survived.

“This can and does happen to the most loving, responsible and attentive parents; no one is immune,” says Janette Fennell, founder and president of KidsAndCars.org. Children should never be left in a car alone, not even for five minutes. Young children’s internal body temperatures heat up three to five times more quickly than adults, making them more susceptible to heatstroke. The temperature inside a car can rise nearly 20 degrees within the first ten minutes alone. Within a half hour, the body will start shutting down.

An average of 37 children die needlessly every year from vehicular heatstroke, according to KidsAndCars.org. That means approximately 1 child every 9 days. More than 54 percent of the cases between 1998 and 2015 have been caused by forgetfulness of a parent or child care provider. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that these types of incidents are the leading cause of non-crash vehicle deaths.

With many more hot summer days to come, parents and caregivers need to take extra precautions to avoid leaving children alone in vehicles and experiencing the ultimate tragedy. Please, do not believe for an instant that this can’t happen to you or a child in your care. Even the most educated, conscientious, and loving parents/guardians can forget a sleeping baby in the back seat. How, you might wonder? Just like the Baton Rouge father – it was a change in routine. It could be sleep deprivation, stress, running late for work, or a distraction such as a phone call. Think about it. How many of you throw in a load of laundry, then forget about the load because the phone rang, or the kids are fighting or need lunch? Have you ever put something on the stove and forgot about it?

KidsAndCars.org believes the solution to these preventable tragedies is a combination of education and technology. Through the first of its kind “Look Before You Lock” educational campaign, KidsAndCars.org has already distributed more than 750,000 safety information cards to birthing hospitals nationwide. At the same time, technology is needed to prevent these tragedies. “We have reminders on our dashboard when to put our seatbelt on, when the door is open, if the fuel tank is empty, if our tire pressure is low,” Fennell said.

These incidents will continue to happen until someone steps in and helps. Some automakers are already doing their part. GM recently announced it will be adding a “Rear Seat Reminder” as a standard feature to its 2017 Acadia SUV. The system appears to be an industry first. Until such technology is made standard in all vehicles, here are “Look Before You Lock” safety tips from KidsAndCars.org:

  • Never leave a child unattended inside a motor vehicle – even if the air-conditioning is on or a window is cracked.
  • Never let children play in or around a parked car.
  • Always keep the vehicle locked, even in your garage.
  • Make it routine to put your handbag, wallet, cell phone or laptop on the floor of the backseat.
  • Make it a habit to open the back door and look in the backseat of your vehicle before locking the doors and walking away.
  • Avoid distractions while you are driving. Putting your cell phone in the back seat not only reduces the risks of a serious or deadly accident caused by inattentive driving. It also helps prevent leaving your child in the vehicle unattended.

If you see a child alone in a vehicle:

  • Try to find the driver of the vehicle.
  • Call 911.
  • If the child seems to be in imminent danger, break the window furthest away from the child to rescue him/her. KidsAndCars.org offers a small tool called resqme™, an all-in-one seatbelt cutter and window breaker that fits on your keychain. The spring-loaded device is tapped on the corner of a car window and the glass is shattered.

For more safety tips or to lend your support to this wonderful organization, please visit their websites at KidsAndCars.org.