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Look before you lock to prevent tragedy

Posted on Jul. 6, 2015 ( comments)
Hot Sun

A parked car can reach 125 degrees in just a few minutes on a hot day.

It only takes 10 minutes for a car to reach deadly temperatures for a child or pet trapped inside.

With Western Washington in the middle of a heat wave, it’s especially important right now to be vigilant. A parked car can reach 125 degrees in just a few minutes, even with the windows partially open.

Even on a cooler, 60-degree day, the temperature inside your car can hit 110 degrees.

Children are especially vulnerable to heatstroke, as their body temperatures rise three to five times faster than an adult's, according to child advocacy group A child dies when his or her body temperature reaches 107 degrees.

Leaving or forgetting a child in the backseat of a car on a hot day might be hard to fathom for many parents, but it happens more often than you might think. reports 32 children died in 2014 because they were left unattended in a hot vehicle.

On average, 38 children die per year in cars from heat-related deaths. Eight children have died in hot cars so far this year.

One of those victims was an 18-month-old girl in Panama City, Florida, left inside a car outside an elementary school for nearly eight hours. Her mother forgot she was in the car when she went inside that morning to teach.

The majority of vehicular heatstroke deaths are caused by a parent unknowingly leaving their child in the car, according to A change in routine, lack of sleep, stress or distractions are contributing factors.

Rear-facing car seats look the same whether or not there’s a baby inside, and children often fall asleep on car rides, eliminating visual and auditory reminders that a child is in the car with you. and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offer safety tips to help parents prevent tragedy:

  • Look before you lock: Get in the habit of always opening the back door of your vehicle every time you reach your destination to check to make sure no child, or pet, is left behind.
  • Create a reminder to check the backseat:
    • Keep a large stuffed animal in the child's car seat. Right before the child is placed in the seat, move the stuffed animal to the front passenger seat as a visual reminder that your child is in the backseat.
    • Put something you'll need such as your cellphone, purse, employee ID or brief case in the backseat to ensure you open the back door of your vehicle to retrieve your belongings.
  • Know the signs of heatstroke: Red, hot and moist or dry skin; no sweating; strong, rapid pulse or slow, weak pulse; nausea; confusion or strange behavior
  • Make arrangements with your daycare provider or babysitter to call you within 10 minutes if your child does not arrive as expected.
  • Never leave children alone in or around cars, not even for a minute. Instead, use drive-thru services when available and pay for gas at the pump.
  • Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in the garage or driveway, and keep car keys and remote openers out of reach of children.
  • When a child is missing, call 911 and check the inside of vehicles and car trunks immediately.
  • If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. Call 911. If the child seems hot or sick, get them out of the vehicle as quickly as possible. Spray the child with cool water. If the child is responsive, stay with them until help arrives and have someone else search for the parent.

To prevent injuries and deaths of children left alone in hot cars, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) named July 31 National Heat Stroke Prevention Day.

The goal of this day is to raise awareness and encourage conversation about the dangers of leaving children in hot cars. 

You can be a part of the national heatstroke conversation by using the hashtag #heatstroke on social media.

Related stories and resources

Video: The hidden danger of kids left alone in hot cars

Hidden heat dangers: 5 simple ways to help your kids avoid the ER

Quiz: How much do you know about preventing child heatstroke?

This story was originally published in July 2014 and updated in July 2015.

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