Thursday, July 17, 2008

Leaving Children Unattended in Vehicles can be Deadly

As temperatures begin to increase, the Georgia Department of Human Resources (DHR), Division of Public Health, and the Safe Kids of Georgia community partners urge parents not to leave children unsupervised in vehicles for any length of time. It is important to remember that temperatures in your vehicle could spike to 160 degrees Fahrenheit on a hot and humid day within a matter of minutes – even with the windows partly open.

"There are several risks associated with leaving children in unattended vehicles," said Dr. Sandra Elizabeth Ford, acting director of the Division of Public Health. "They can suffer from heat stroke and hyperthermia and become entrapped in the trunk and other compartments which can set a vehicle in motion and lead to car crashes, or even abduction. Parents need to know that these potentially fatal outcomes can be prevented through awareness, supervision and environmental modifications such as locked doors. We are working alongside Safe Kids coalitions across the state to increase awareness about child safety."

Children left in vehicles under extreme heat conditions are especially vulnerable. Heat stroke, a life-threatening emergency, can occur in temperatures as low as 80 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on humidity levels. Body temperatures higher than 105 degrees Fahrenheit can cause permanent brain damage or even death, especially among children.

According to the Center for the Study and Prevention of Injury, Violence and Suicide, during the period 1995-2005 there were 414 heat-related deaths of children in the U.S. – 16 of them in Georgia. Of the 16 Georgia child fatality cases, two were children who climbed in the trunk of a vehicle; 14 were in the passenger compartment.

More than half of unattended child deaths occurred when adults forgot or were unaware of the child, according to a 2005 study published in Injury Prevention. To help prevent tragedy, the Division of Public Health urges all parents and caregivers to be conscious of the following safety recommendations:

  • Supervision is key. Even if the windows are down, never leave your child unattended in a car. Never leave your car keys where children can get them. Keep car doors and trunks locked at all times, even in the garage or driveway. Teach children not to play in or around cars.
  • Adopt safety-focused behaviors. Place your purse or briefcase in the back seat as a reminder that you have your child in the car. Be sure that all occupants leave the vehicle when you reach your destination. If a child is missing, check the car first, including the trunk. Keep the rear fold-down seats closed to prevent kids from getting into the trunk from inside the car.
  • Have a plan that your child’s teacher will call you if your child does not show up for school, or if your child does not arrive when expected. If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. If they are hot or seem sick, get them out as quickly as possible and call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
  • Make your car safer. Contact your auto dealership about getting your vehicle retrofitted with a trunk release mechanism. Make sure the child resistant locks in your vehicle function correctly.

These and other recommendations for keeping kids safe in or around vehicles have been adapted from, and other child safety websites.

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