Leaving a child or a pet in the car during the summertime seems like an obvious mistake to most people. However, the news shows us with tragic examples that it's still a problem even this summer. Just this week, the Palm Beach County Sheriff's department reported the arrest of a woman who left her 2-year old alone in an overheated vehicle for nearly half an hour while she shopped in a department store at the Wellington Green Mall. As the temperature in Florida continues to climb, it's only wise for us all to remind ourselves of the danger heat poses to children or pets left alone in a vehicle.
How Common are Deaths by Heat Stroke?
As of today, there have already been nine children who lost their lives to pediatric vehicular heat stroke (PVH) in 2020. One of those children was a 10-month old baby girl in Clewiston, Florida at the end of May. There have been 858 PVH deaths in the United States since 1998, which gives us an average of almost 40 children lost every year. For 2019, the nation surpassed that average with an alarming loss of 52 young lives due to PVH deaths. During the span of 1998-2018, Florida was ranked #2 for the state with the most heat stroke deaths in vehicles.
8 Tips and Reminders for Summertime Car Safety
It's obvious that a refresher on car safety is a regular necessity during the summer months. To make sure you are making the best call for your loved ones, here are a few tips and reminders to follow while out in the heat this summer:
- Never leave kids or pets alone in the vehicle. Just don't do it. There's no valid reason or excuse to justify the large risk you are about to take.
- The heat inside a car is greater than you think. A car can heat up to 125 degrees in minutes. 80% of the temperature increase happens in the first 10 minutes of the car sitting there.
- It doesn't take insane temperatures to kill a child. Children have suffered PVH deaths in 60 degree weather, and a child this year lost his life in Texas while it was only 78 degrees outside.
- A child heats up 3-5 times quicker than an adult. Don't make a decision for your kid based off of what your adult body can handle. They are not the same.
- Create a way to remind yourself to check the backseat. Get in the habit of putting something valuable (i.e. wallet, purse, or cell phone) in the backseat that will force you to consider checking the back before you exit and lock the vehicle.
- Use a stuffed animal reminder. Keep the animal in the car seat when it's not in use. When you put your child in the car seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat as a reminder. Then, place it back into the car seat when you take your child out.
- Keep vehicles locked at all times at home. Children can be curious and may attempt to play inside the vehicle, increasing the potential of locking themselves in there.
- Be mindful of busy times of the year (i.e. holidays, heavily scheduled afternoons, seasons of stress). This is when you run the risk of being so distracted that you forget to check the backseat.
What to Do If You See a Child Left Alone in a Hot Car?
If there is a child or dog left unattended in a car, most people will intervene. In fact, Florida law will even protect you for doing so. However, that law has a few stipulations.
Statute 768.139 suggests considering the following:
- Is the child or animal able to make an exit on their own?
- Do you have reason to believe they're suffering or in pain?
- Call 911.
- If you do need to break the window, don't use more force than what's needed to only break the window.
- Stay with them until the police or medical help arrives.
It can be incredibly intimidating to intervene on someone else's parenting, but when it comes to a child sitting in a hot car, we all have a responsibility to advocate for that young body that is not built to withstand those circumstances. To protect yourself and your loved ones this summer, keep these tips and reminders in mind. Our lives are busy and we are navigating a new world through this pandemic. There is plenty to keep our minds distracted from protecting our children from dangers that would otherwise seem obvious. Be sure to have these discussions with your partner, childcare providers, and anyone else who might drive your children around. If you or a loved one have suffered from a PVH loss, contact us today to create a plan for your justice.