“This campaign is designed for parents and families with young children, but it applies to everyone in communities nationwide who care about the safety of children,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We hope that the simple tips from this campaign will save lives and help families avoid unnecessary heartache.”
Texas consistently ranks among the states hardest hit by heatstroke fatalities. Monday’s message comes on the heels of a tragedy in the Sugarland area of Houston last month, when a 7-month-old infant died after being left unattended in a hot car. Statewide, at least 80 children have lost their lives to vehicular heatstroke since 1998, with most deaths occurring among children ages 3 and younger.
“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 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.”
When outside temperatures are in the low 80s, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes, even with a window rolled down two inches. Children’s bodies in particular overheat easily, and infants and children under four years old are at the greatest risk for heat-related illness.
Data from the San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences show 33 children died last year due to heatstroke—medically termed “hyperthermia”—while there were at least 49 deaths in 2010. An unknown number of children are also injured each year due to heatstroke in hot cars, suffering ailments including permanent brain injury, blindness, and the loss of hearing, among others. Often heatstroke deaths and injuries occur after a child gets into an unlocked vehicle to play while unknown to the parent. Other incidents can occur when a caregiver transporting a child as part of a change in their daily routine inadvertently forgets a sleeping infant in a rear-facing car seat in the back of the vehicle.
As part of its “Where’s baby? Look before you lock.” campaign, NHTSA and its safety partners are urging parents and caregivers to take the following precautions to prevent heatstroke 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
In addition, NHTSA urges community members who see a child alone in a hot vehicle to immediately call 911 or the local emergency number. A child in distress due to heat should be removed from the vehicle as quickly as possible and rapidly cooled.
“There’s no greater tragedy than a concerned caregiver or loving parent inadvertently harming their own child,” said Johnny Humphreys, Chair of the Safe Kids Never Leave Your Child Alone in a Car Texas Task Force. “While parents and caregivers must always be the first line of defense, we can all help prevent these deaths by being aware of the risks and taking immediate action if we see a child in danger.”