Every day I have the opportunity to work with parents, grandparents and caregivers to teach them about car seat safety in my role as an injury prevention educator. There is nothing more exciting than working with expectant parents or caregivers, as the anticipation of a new baby brings so much joy.
As a part of our educational sessions, we provide caregivers with a window thermometer cling and talk to them about heat stroke. Heat stroke, also known as hyperthermia, is a condition that occurs when the body isn’t able to cool itself quickly enough and the body temperature rises to dangerous levels. Children are at great risk for heat stroke because a child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s body. When the body’s temperature reaches 104 degrees, the internal organs start to shut down. When it reaches 107 degrees, the child can die. 99% of the time, our families respond with the same quick reaction: “That could never happen to me—I would never leave my child in the car.” In my heart, I believe this is true—but I also know that since 1998, over 740 parents have said the same thing and been wrong.
Unfortunately, in our state we have already lost one child this year to the heartbreaking tragedy of a car-related heat stroke death. In the United States, we lose one child every ten days—and all of these deaths are completely preventable.
Manufacturers are working to stop this tragedy. Car seat companies have developed alarms that alert you if you do not unfasten your child from their harness after the vehicle stops moving. Vehicle manufacturers are working on alerts and even phone apps that signal if you do not remove an object from the back seat. While these steps are beneficial, I tell families that there are some very simple and easy methods they can use to help protect their child—simply ACT:
Even on a beautiful day outside, don’t leave your children unattended in the vehicle. Also, one of the most common infant toys is a set of plastic keys. While cars are fun, keep real keys up and away to prevent your little one from accessing your trunk or vehicle without supervision. In some of these child deaths, families have accidentally locked their keys in the car, or the child has accidentally locked it from the inside.
Create reminders for busy or tiring days. Place a stuffed animal, blanket or other child’s item in the front passenger seat as a visual reminder to “check for baby” before leaving the vehicle. There are also apps available. You also can ask your child’s day care to call you if your child does not arrive as expected or place a personal item under your seat (on the floorboard) to remind you, such as a shoe or your cell phone or keys.
T- Take Action
If you see a child unattended in a vehicle, call 911. Stay with the child and on the line with emergency services until help has arrived.
Lee Penny, MHA, is program manager of Injury Prevention for Safe Kids Upstate, part of GHS Children’s Hospital‘s Bradshaw Institute for Community Child Health & Advocacy. For more safety information please visit safekidsupstate.org or facebook.com/GHSBradshawInstitute/.