Guest Column: Children and cars: Let’s work together to save our children

By Penny Lentz
Safe Kids Winnebago County Coalition Coordinator

Fatal distraction: How can someone forget their child is in the car seat in the back seat of their vehicle? Approximately once every 10 days somewhere in the United States, a child is forgotten inside a vehicle and dies. There are many more unreported cases where the child suffers from heat stroke but does not die.

An otherwise loving and attentive parent’s or caregiver’s life gets busy, and he or she is distracted, fatigued, upset or has had to change his or her normal daily routine and forgets the child is in the vehicle.

It happens in all walks of life: doctors, nurses, teachers, administrators, factory workers, a postal worker, a social worker, a police officer, a clergyman and a construction worker have all had it happen to them.

A parked car can reach deadly temperatures in a short period of time. On a normal 80-degree day, the temperature in the vehicle can reach 99 degrees in 10 minutes and 110 degrees in 20 minutes.

The child can become dehydrated in a matter of minutes. A child’s body temperature increases three to five times faster than that of an adult.

Attention, mothers, fathers, grandparents and caregivers: please help us eliminate these tragic life-altering events!

Provide reminders for yourself that the child is in the vehicle — simple things such as putting the diaper bag in the front seat next to you or putting your purse, briefcases and cellphones in the back seat next to the car seat. This way, when you open the back door to get them, you will see your child.

Use a stuffed animal as a visual reminder of your child. Put the stuffed animal in the back seat when the child is not with you and in the front seat when your child is in the vehicle. Just a quick glance at the stuffed animal will make you think of your child in the back seat.

There are also retail items available that can be purchased and placed in the door jamb, and it activates when you open the driver’s door and says “check car seat.”

As you are walking through the parking lots on the way into a store, glance in the back seat of the cars as you pass. If a child is unattended in a vehicle, call 911. It doesn’t matter how long they have been there — call 911.

If you are to be dropping off your child at a daycare or babysitter, please have them call you if the child has not been dropped off within 15 minutes of the expected arrival time.

Approximately 30 percent of heat-related deaths occur because a child gains access to an unlocked vehicle. Four out of the 11 deaths that have already occurred this year were because children have gotten into an unlocked vehicle by themselves, and became overcome by the heat. If a child gets into an unlocked car that is using the child safety locks on the back doors, the child will not be able to open the doors from the inside.

Always lock all of your car doors, even if your car is parked in your own driveway. Teach children that cars are not play areas. If they see a friend playing in a car, tell them to tell an adult. Remind children the trunk of the car is not a hiding place. Then, teach your children how to use the emergency release that is in your vehicle’s trunk. If a child is missing, check all unlocked vehicles, including the trunk.

Even if your child is asleep in their car seat, and it would make it so much easier to leave them in the car asleep while you carry in groceries or packages from your shopping trip, don’t. Old habits would have you put away those groceries after carrying them in and forget that the child is still in the car. Remember, heatstroke can happen — even on a 70-degree day.

There have been several reported cases where a vehicle was stolen with a sleeping child in it.

Please, let’s work together and save our children!

From the June 25-July 1, 2014, issue

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