As temperatures rise, so does the risk of vehicular, heat-related illnesses and deaths for children, point out officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Region 7.
The administration, which includes Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, is working to promote the national “Look Before You Lock” effort to ensure that children are not left in cars by parents and caregivers, and that children cannot gain unsupervised access to motor vehicles.
As of today, 19 children have already died due to vehicular heatstroke this year, according to NoHeatstroke.org.
Vehicle heatstroke is one of the leading causes of traffic-related death for children in the United States, says the NHTSA. Since 1998, the majority (52.6%) of these tragedies occur when a child is “forgotten” by a parent or caregiver and left in a hot car, and more than half (58%) occur at home. A busy parent or caregiver may unintentionally forget that a quiet or sleeping child, who may also be facing the back of the car, is in the back of the vehicle. Nearly one-third of these accidents occur with children under 1 year of age.
“Vehicle heatstroke is one of the leading causes of traffic-related death for children in the United States, resulting in the deaths of 953 young children since 1998,” said Regional Administrator Susan DeCourcy in a statement issued Aug. 1, That number has since risen to 959.
“We hope that before walking away after parking a vehicle, drivers look in the back of their car and then lock the doors,” DeCourcy continued.
“More than half (53%) of all vehicle-related heatstroke deaths in children are caused by a child accidentally being left in the car, and 26% are from a child getting into a hot car unsupervised,” she added. “Since 1998, our region has lost 67 children to vehicular heatstroke. We have to impress upon our children that the vehicle is not a playground and that playing in and around the car is very dangerous. Get the word out to everyone: please Park. Look. Lock.”
Families staying home more over the past couple of years likely contributed to a decline in ‘forgotten’ circumstances. Unfortunately, the percentage of children playing in and around the car and getting locked in has increased.
“The bottom line is this: We are all susceptible to forgetfulness,” remind NHTSA officials. “We live in a fast-paced society, and our routines are often upended at a moment’s notice. It is during these moments of hurriedness and change in routine that many of these preventable tragedies occur. For this reason, NHTSA urges everyone to make it a habit to look in the back seat every time and think to Park. Look. Lock.”
A bystander who sees a child in a hot vehicle should take these action steps recommended by the administration:
• Make sure the child is okay and responsive. If not, call 911 immediately.
• If the child appears to be okay, attempt to locate the parents. If there is another bystander present, one person should actively search for the parent while the other waits by the car.
• If the child is not responsive or appears to be in distress, attempt to get into the car to assist the child — even if that means breaking a window.
Knowing the warning signs of heatstroke, which include red, hot and moist or dry skin; no sweating; a strong rapid or a slow weak pulse; nausea; or confusion is also key. If a child exhibits any of these signs after being in a hot vehicle, quickly spray the child with cool water or with a garden hose — but never in an ice bath. Call 911 immediately.
For more information on vehicle heatstroke, visit www.nhtsa.gov/campaign/heatstroke.