It takes more than careful driving to keep your child safe in a car (Photo : Reuters)
Child On a June afternoon in 2006, Andrea Boe arrived at her daughter Kate's daycare center in Grand Forks, North Dakota to pick the five-month-old up.
The trouble was, as staff told her, she had never dropped her daughter off that day.
With what police later accepted was genuinely dawning horror, Boe, 34, raced out to her minivan to find the body of her daughter Kate strapped into her car seat, where she had been since the morning.
Like Us on Facebook
Boe, who later said she had been on "autopilot" during her commute, had gone through a day of work without realizing that she had omitted one brief step from her morning's plan. The minivan had tinted windows, and no one walking buy in the parking lot at her place of work could have seen the baby inside.
The same thing happened the summer before to Dan Carlson in Browns Valley, Minnesota. He dropped his older daughter at his mother's house and, instead of taking his 15-month-old daughter Tehya to daycare, he drove to work, parked the car, and left the child to die in the backseat.
It happens more often than you'd think.
According to Safe Kids USA, a network of organizations that promotes child safety, more than 500 children across the US have died in cars of hyperthermia - more commonly referred to as "heatstroke" - since 1998. In half of these cases, the organization says, the children were left in the cars by accident, by a distracted caregiver.
With such a statistic in mind, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today announced a campaign to promote awareness of the dangers posed by heatstroke to children in cars. Releasing the statement with the NHTSA were the Louisiana Department of Transportation, Safe Kids Worldwide (of which Safe Kids USA is a member), and various health and law enforcement professionals.
Louisiana has seen at least 16 children die of vehicular heatstroke since 1998, with most of the fatalities children three and under.
"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," David Strickland, NHTSA Administrator, said in the statement. "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."
Those launching the campaign emphasize that 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 two inches. Children's bodies in particular overheat easily, and infants and children under four years old are at the greatest risk for heat-related illness, the advocates said.
The statement cited data from the San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences that shows that 33 children died last year due to heatstroke, while there were at least 49 deaths in 2010. Many more children are hurt each year due to vehicular heatstroke, with injuries including brain damage, blindness, and hearing loss.
Heatstroke deaths and injuries also occur frequently because a child lets themselves into an unlocked car.
Lack of routine represents another threat. Boe and Carlson both belonged to multi-child, multi-caregiver families in which the morning tasks varied.
With these facts in mind, NHTSA and its partners recommend the following safety tips:
§ 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 cell phone, 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.
The campaign urges members of the public who see a child in a hot car to immediately call an emergency number.