Every year the reports roll in; another child has died after being left unattended in a car. While death from heat is the common cause, there simply is no safe time to leave any child unattended in a car. The statistics are a tragic. Many parents just didn’t realize their child was in the car or believed it was temperate enough to leave the child there for just a little while.
While several states have created laws to protect children, it is important for everyone, not just parents, to realize how these “accidents” happen and what to do if you find an unattended child in a car. Each year we are given up to 40 reasons why we should not leave children unattended in a vehicle (i.e. the deaths caused by this negligence), but here are seven more:
Reason One: The Facts
According to Jan Null, a San Francisco State University professor, each year between 30 and 40 children die as a result of being left unattended in a car. Most of these deaths occur during the hot summer months; however, children do perish in cars during the winter as well.
Many of the deaths are accidental and occur when a child has been “forgotten,” usually by a parent who does not normally drive with the child. There is no greater reason to not leave a child unattended in a car.
Reason Two: Heat Stroke
When a child is left unattended in a vehicle during hot weather, he or she actually suffers from heat exhaustion or heat stroke. These illnesses are treatable if the child receives immediate medical attention; however, because many of the children are not found in time, treatment is not an option.
Symptoms include severe cramping in the feet, calves, or hands; tense muscles; nausea; headache; slowed heartbeat; fainting; and convulsions. Death from any heat related illness is painful and slow.
Reason Three: Hypothermia
Hypothermia and frostbite are illnesses generally associated with spending too much time outside during cold weather. Children and the elderly are especially prone to these problems. In fact, infants can develop hypothermia by sleeping in a cold room.
Children who are left unattended in a cold car can quickly develop hypothermia as their body temperature begins to dip below 95 degrees. Symptoms include extreme fatigue and clumsiness. Hypothermia is fatal unless treated immediately.
Reason Four: Poor Logic
Many parents who make the decision to leave a child in their vehicle do so believing that by parking the car in the shade and cracking the windows, they will ensure that their child is safe. Studies have shown that both of these ideas are far from true.
In fact, in one study comparing a car left in full sun, with its windows closed, to another car in the shade with its windows cracked; the temperature difference was negligible. There is no safe way to leave your child in a car.
Reason Five: No Regulations
As this problem grows, some states have begun to address the issues by passing a variety of laws, making it illegal to leave a child in an unattended vehicle. These states include Florida, Texas, Washington, Michigan, and others.
Several states have enacted laws that go into effect if a child dies as a result of being left unattended. Still, over half of the states have no legislation regarding this growing and tragic problem.
Reason Six: The Underlying Causes
While there are dozens of cases each year in which a child dies after being left unattended, in most cases, the “how” behind the tragedy originates in one of three ways. First, the child is left in the vehicle intentionally. A parent or guardian leaves the child to run errands, have dinner, or even see a movie, not recognizing the danger.
Second, a child climbs in an unlocked vehicle, closes the door behind him or her, and isn’t found until it is too late. Finally, there are cases in which the parent effectively forgot the child was in the vehicle. This typically happens when the parent driving the car does not typically have that responsibility. Whether the child is left intentionally or by accident, the results are often the same—a child dies.
Reason Seven: Don’t Get Involved
As parents and as citizens, there are things we can do to help prevent these tragic deaths. Parents are encouraged to keep their cars locked at all times. Automobile manufactures should be encouraged to add an alarm function to all vehicles that would sound if the ignition is turned off and all safety belts are not released.
Everyone should be aware of their surroundings, especially in parking lots, and should take immediate action if they find a child in a car. Remember, that there is no safe time of the year to leave a child unattended in a vehicle. Every single death of a child left unattended is preventable if only people would get involved.
If you follow any driving safety tips, make it this one: do not leave a child unattended in a car. Children who are left alone in a vehicle will, at the least, become gravely ill. In the worst cases, the child will die. This is the one reason to never leave a child in a car.
Spring, summer, fall, winter—it does not matter. High temperatures or cold, intentionally or by accident, there is no excuse for one more child dying in an unattended vehicle. We simply must take the steps necessary to avoid another senseless tragedy.