Look Before You Lock

Look Before You Lock!It’s easy to dismiss the concerns of hyperthermia or heatstroke when the weather isn’t all that hot, but it only takes an outside temperature of 70 degrees to create risks for children who are left or trapped in a locked vehicle. Death by “hyperthermia” is the official designation. When it happens to young children, the facts are often the same: An otherwise loving and attentive parent one day gets busy, or distracted, or upset, or confused by a change in his or her daily routine, and just… forgets a child is in the car. It happens that way somewhere in the United States on an average of 30 times a year, parceled out through the spring, summer and early fall. And the season is upon us.

So far in 2014 there have been approximately 13 heatstroke deaths of children in vehicles; nine confirmed as heatstroke and the others still pending offical findings by the medical examiner. Last year, 2013, there were at least forty-four deaths of children in vehicles; thirty-nine which has been confirmed as heatstroke and five which, based upon the known circumstances, are most likely heatstroke (2013 list). In 2012 there were 34 deaths of children due to hyperthermia after being left in or having gained access to hot cars, trucks, vans and SUV’s. Since 1998 there have been at least 606 documented cases of heatstroke deaths of children in vehicles. And data and research shows that these incidents can occur on days with relatively mild (i.e., ~ 70 degrees F) temperatures and that vehicles can reach life-threatening temperatures very rapidly.

Two decades ago, this was relatively rare. But in the early 1990s, car-safety experts declared that passenger-side front airbags could kill children, and they recommended that child seats be moved to the back of the car; then, for even more safety for the very young, that the baby seats be pivoted to face the rear. And while deaths by airbags have virtually dropped off, an increase in deaths by heatstroke has ensued. This by no-means is as suggestion to move children to the front seat or airbags be disabled, but parents need to take necessary steps to ensure a child is never left behind in a vehicle.

Look before you lock!

  • Be sure that all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don’t overlook sleeping babies.
  • Always lock your car and ensure children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices. IF A CHILD IS MISSING, ALWAYS CHECK THE POOL FIRST, AND THEN THE CAR, INCLUDING THE TRUNK. Teach your children that vehicles are never to be used as a play area.
  • Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat and when the child is put in the seat place the animal in the front with the driver.
  • Or place your purse or briefcase in the back seat as a reminder that you have your child in the car.
  • Make “look before you leave” a routine whenever you get out of the car.
  • Have a plan that your childcare provider will call you if your child does not show up for school.

For more information contact the Grand Traverse Metro Fire Department’s Fire & Life Safety Public Educator at 231-947-3000 ext. 1324.