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Look Before You Lock

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Every nine days, an unattended child dies in a hot car

Staff Report

When you read a news story about a child who died from heat stroke after being accidentally left in a hot car, you might think, “This would never happen to me. I’d never forget my baby.”

Statistics show, however, that these tragedies happen to even the best, most loving parents. In more than half of child vehicular heat stroke deaths, the parent or caregiver unknowingly left the child in the vehicle, according to KidsAndCars.org, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting child safety.

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) urges parents and caregivers to prevent these tragedies by taking a few minutes to make a plan.

“Life gets hectic. Even the most doting parents get distracted, particularly when their daily routine is disrupted,” said DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb, in a news release last week. “But these tragedies can be easily prevented. The simplest thing to do is to place your purse or briefcase in the back seat with your baby – something you wouldn’t leave your car without, regardless of a change in your routine.”

You can also put your cell phone or employee badge in the back seat. KidsAndCars.org also suggests leaving a stuffed animal in your child’s car seat when it is not in use. When you strap your child into her car seat, put the stuffed animal in the front seat with you so you remember your child is in the car.

Child Care Aware of Virginia recommends ordering a BabyIn BabyOut hangtag for your rear view mirror to remind you to “Look Before You Lock.”

Fifty-two children died in the United States last year as a result of being unattended in a hot vehicle, according to KidsAndCars.org, and 2018 was officially the worst year in U.S. history for hot car deaths. Child Care Aware reports that so far in 2019, there have been 14 child deaths nationwide due to heat stroke.

An average of 38 children die of vehicular heat stroke each year – or one about every nine days – and more than half are infants age 1 and younger. An infant quietly sleeping in a rear-facing car seat may not be noticed by a distracted, hurried parent, particularly when transporting the baby is not a part of their daily routine.

Additionally, parents should always keep cars locked – and keys out of reach – when not in use. Sometimes young children sneak into a car to play or hide. If a child goes missing, your car, including the trunk, should be one of the first places searched. The second-most common circumstance leading to child vehicular deaths (27 percent) occurs when a child gets into a vehicle on his own, unbeknownst to his parents, according to KidsAndCars.org.

It is also important to never leave a pet in a hot vehicle as they can also suffer from heat exhaustion, heat stroke, brain damage and even death, according to Safe Kids Worldwide, a nonprofit child safety organization. Dogs and cats are prone to extreme heat since they cannot perspire and can only dispel heat by panting and through the pads of their feet. When the temperature outside is in the low 80s, studies show the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in just 10 minutes – even when the vehicle is parked in the shade.

“Although warmer weather brings a greater risk, children have died in hot cars on days when the temperature was in the lower 50s,” said Child Care Aware in a news release.

Virginia has a “Good Samaritan” law to protect from lawsuits for helping a person in an emergency. “If you are a bystander and see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call 911 immediately and, if necessary, safely do what is needed to rescue the child,” Child Care Aware said.