Simple steps can prevent hot car deaths

March 30, 2011 4:11:31 PM PDT
Every year, we report about children dying or suffering serious health issues after being left in a hot car. It happens more than you might think but there are steps you can take to make sure your child doesn't become a statistic. The Texas summer sun can be relentless. It can be bad for roads, plants, and with one mistake, it can even lead to tragedy.

"My heart dropped, because I have kids myself," friend Nick Haynes said.

Last summer in Baytown, a 2-year-old girl was seriously injured after being left in her father's hot car for at least two hours as he worked inside an auto repair shop. When he remembered what he had done, he found the little girl unresponsive but breathing.

That's the result, police said, of being distracted.

"Just received some tragic information about another family member from where they're from, and he had that on his mind, and he got out of his routine," Baytown Police Department Capt. Roger Clifford said.

And that's how it usually happens.

"Honestly, it can happen to anybody," Seema Patel said.

Patel educates parents on childhood injury prevention for Texas Children's Hospital. She doesn't recommend gadgets like sensors and alarms attached to child safety seats.

"We hear about cases with human error where the alarm goes off and the parents think that there's something wrong with the alarm and so they turn it off," Patel said.

Instead, she says simply place whatever you need at your destination near your child.

"So when they get out of the vehicle, they have to look in the back to get that out," Patel said. "That way, they're more likely to notice if a child is in the seat or not."

Last year, 33 children died from hyperthermia after being left unattended in a parked vehicle. So far this year, there have already been 17 deaths -- five in Texas, which is the most of any state. Two happened just last week.

So just how long does it take for a car to get hot? With an outside temperature of 85 degrees, it takes five minutes for the temperature to reach 90 inside. It takes seven to 10 minutes to reach 100, and just 30 minutes to reach 120.

The average summer high in Houston is 94.

"This heat is just unbearable," a resident said.

But it's not as unbearable as losing a child.

"Always check before you get out," Patel said.

Leaving a child in a hot car is a crime. Police say if you see a child locked inside a car, call 9-1-1.

What can parents and caregivers do to prevent this type of tragedy from happening to them?

  • Never leave your child alone in a car, not even for a minute to run a quick errand!
  • Keep something that you need, such as your purse or wallet, in the back seat with the child so that you have to check the back before you walk away from the car.
  • Be especially careful to check for sleeping infants. If they are not making any sounds, you may not realize they are in the car with you.
  • Keep a toy or stuffed animal in your child's car seat. When you place the child in the car seat, put that toy or stuff animal in the front seat with you to remind you that your child is in the car.
  • Plan ahead with your child's day care provider or school - have them call you if your child does not show up to school that day, within 20-30 minutes of normal arrival time.
  • Make sure that your children understand that your vehicle is not a place to play. Keep vehicle doors and trunks locked, even when you are at home. Keep your keys out of your child's reach. If your child is missing, check your vehicle immediately to see if he or she is in it.
  • If you see a child that has been left unattended in a vehicle, call 9-1-1 immediately and stay with the child until help arrives. How many children have died so far this year as the result of being left in a hot car?
  • 20 children have died in the U.S.
  • 6 of these deaths were in Texas (2 month period between April - June: Dallas, Del Rio, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Kingsville, Longview)
  • On average, 37 deaths per year

    Information from Texas Children's Hospital

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