Take Steps to Ensure Children Are Not Left in Vehicles

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The Atlanta community is still in shock after learning that 22-month-old Cooper Harris died after being left for seven hours in a hot car by his father in Cobb County. This tragedy should prompt everyone to take extra steps to ensure that children in their care are not injured or killed from heatstroke in vehicles.

According to KidsandCars.org, an organization that tracks child fatalities in vehicles, the Georgia toddler is the 14thchild in the country to die from heatstroke after being locked in a car this year. Just one day before he died, a nine-month-old Florida girl perished after being left in her father’s pickup truck.

Statistics indicate that this chilling phenomenon has become increasingly common in recent years.   Notably, the average number of car-related child heatstroke deaths per year since 2000 (38 per year)  is more than double what it was over the last 9 years of the 20th century (17 per year).  Some speculate that the reason for this troubling statistic, ironically, is the adoption of rules intended to make it safer for children to ride in cars – specifically, the use of rear-facing car seats.

The National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) reports that at least 44 children died in the U.S. in 2013 after being left unattended in motor vehicles.

Ways to Avoid Leaving Your Child in the Car

A closed car can be an oven. In 10 minutes, a vehicle’s interior temperature can jump 20 degrees. Even when outdoor temperatures are in the 60s, a car’s temperature can easily reach 110 degrees. Children’s bodies are particularly vulnerable to temperature changes. When a child’s temperature reaches 107 degrees, the child may die.

Deaths from heatstroke in cars are entirely preventable. Many child deaths occur when children climb into unlocked cars unbeknownst to adults. Sadly, others happen when parents, caregivers and daycare providers forget children are in the back seat, especially young children who may be sleeping in a rear-facing car seat.

As unfathomable as it may sound, in today’s busy world even attentive, loving parents are susceptible to forgetting that a child is in the car, and leaving them.   An otherwise doting parent facing stress at work can get so preoccupied with the day ahead of them that their brain goes on “autopilot,” and without some cue to remind them, they simply forget there is a child in the back seat.  Other common distractions, such as cell phones, may cause drivers to overlook a child passenger. That is why it is critical for anyone who takes care of children to develop strategies and habits that provide them with potentially critical reminders that a child is in the car before they can walk away.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Never leave a child unsupervised in a car, even if the windows are partially cracked or the air conditioner is on.
  • Place a purse, backpack, briefcase or other essential item in the back seat so that you must retrieve it before locking the car. You can also write a note and tape it to the dashboard or set an alarm on your cell phone as a reminder.
  • Always check the front and back seats before leaving the vehicle.
  • Ask your daycare provider to call if your child does not arrive as expected.
  • Tell your child that a car is not a play area and keep your keys out of reach.

What to Do If You See an Unsupervised Child in a Locked Car

Bystanders are often the ones to observe when children are left alone in cars. That often leads them in the difficult position of wondering what to do. The NHTSA offers these tips:

  • Look to see if the child is OK. If he or she seems fine but has been left in the car for longer than five minutes, call 911.
  • If the child looks healthy, try to find the parents or ask any nearby stores to try and page the parent over the loudspeakers. If you have a companion with you, send one to look for the parents and the other to stand by the car.
  • If the child is unresponsive and seems distressed, do not hesitate to get in the car, even if you must break a window. Many states have Good Samaritan laws that can protect you from liability if you act in good faith to render emergency aid.
  • If the child seems overheated, spray – don’t dump – cool water over him or her until emergency responders arrive to take over.

The lawyers at James M. Poe, P.C. implore you to always “Look Before You Lock.” Encourage others to do the same. There is simply too much at stake.

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