NEW ORLEANS – With the Louisiana summer heating up, Ronald Medford, deputy administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Costa Dimitriades, M.D., medical director of Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, joined a grandfather who suffered a heatstroke tragedy, Louisiana State Police officials, health professionals and concerned citizens to discuss ways to prevent child deaths and injuries in hot cars. As part of a nationwide campaign launched earlier this year, NHTSA and Safe Kids are joining safety advocates at events around the country to urge parents and caregivers to think "Where’s baby? Look before you lock.”
"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.”
Louisiana consistently ranks among the states hardest hit by heatstroke fatalities. According to Jan Null, a geoscientist at San Francisco State University, at least 17 Louisiana 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 David 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 2 inches. Children’s bodies in particular overheat easily, and infants and children under 4 years old are at the greatest risk for heat-related illness.
Data from the San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences shows 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 parent or 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.
"Whether you are a parent or caregiver, or just a concerned bystander, you can help save lives,” says Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. "We are urging everyone to ACT: Avoid hyperthermia-related deaths by never leaving your child alone in a car and always locking doors and trunks; Create reminders and habits for you and your child’s caregivers to serve as a safety net to ensure you don’t forget your child; and Take action if you see a child unattended in a vehicle by immediately calling 911.”
As part of its "Where’s baby? Look before you lock.” campaign, NHTSA, Safe Kids and its safety part-ners 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 accidentally 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 and Safe Kids urge community members who see a child alone in a hot vehicle to immediately call 911 or the local emergency number. If the child is in distress due to heat they should be removed from the vehicle as quickly as possible and rapidly cooled.
To learn more about NHTSA’s "Where’s baby? Look before you lock.” campaign, visit www.SaferCar.gov/heatstroke.
Safe Kids supports NHTSA’s hyperthermia education campaign and the increased national coordination on the issue. In addition, with the support of the GM Foundation, Safe Kids and its network of 600 coalitions and chapters across the nation are helping to educate parents and caregivers through its hyperthermia awareness campaign, Never Leave Your Child Alone In a Car.
To learn more about Safe Kids’ "Never Leave Your Child Alone in a Car” campaign, visit www.safekids.org/heatstroke.