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Healthy Kids: Preventing child deaths in hot cars

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As much as parents want to believe they would never unknowingly leave a child inside a vehicle, it happens frequently.

The nonprofit safety group Kids and Cars reports that 39 children died in 2016 from being trapped inside hot cars—either because the driver forgot the child was there, they assumed that leaving the child inside the vehicle would be safe for a short time, or the kids got inside unlocked cars without an adult knowing.

A deadly combination

Even with the windows cracked, the temperature inside a vehicle can skyrocket, especially during hot summer months when it can reach 125 degrees within minutes.

“The summer heat makes your car like an oven,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw with Eugene Pediatric Associates. She reminds parents that even the best moms and dads are at risk for forgetting their child inside the car.

“If you are focused on a meeting that is coming up or the grocery list that you have—it could be a million different things—it’s possible for really great parents to forget they have their baby in the back.”

A child left inside a hot car is at a greater risk of heat stroke. Just a few minutes can be extremely dangerous, even fatal, for a small child.

“Babies’ bodies, in particular, heat up 3-6 times faster,” says Dr. Bradshaw. “In addition to getting hot really quickly, they can’t dissipate heat as fast, because they don’t sweat nearly as much as adults do. Children can go into multiple organ failure from the heat.”

Safety tips

To help protect your child from being left in a hot vehicle, set reminders to remove them from the backseat.

“It can be as simple as putting a sticky note on the steering wheel. Or put your baby’s shoe or a piece of their clothing in the seat next to you, something that is a visual reminder: Check the back,” Dr. Bradshaw says. “Or set your phone. People set their phones to remind themselves of all kinds of things. Do something; create a reminder that’s going to work for you.”

In addition, follow these simple suggestions:

• Have a plan with your child care provider to call you if your child does not arrive when expected.

• Keep your car locked when it’s parked to prevent a curious child from getting inside when no one is around.

• Teach children that cars are not safe places to play.

• Store car keys out of reach.

New law protects children and pets

In June of 2017, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed legislation that exempts people from criminal or civil liability if they break a car window to rescue a child or pet. Under the law, anyone who breaks into a car for these reasons is required to remain at the scene until law enforcement arrives.

This video demonstration shows you the correct way to break a car window, so that you do not injure the child inside, or yourself.

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