Children and cars can be a dangerous combination—and the dangers increase during the summer months, according to officials at the DeKalb County Board of Health.
Leaving a child unattended in a vehicle, especially in the summer months, puts that child at risk for heat stroke and death, noted Dr. S. Elizabeth Ford, district health director of the DeKalb County Board of Health at a recent demonstration at the Richardson Health Center in Decatur.
“Adults always think that they’re leaving the child only for a minute or two, but things happen quickly. There is no safe time period to leave a child alone in a car,” Ford said.
A child’s core body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult’s, making children more susceptible to heat stroke and death, Ford noted. “This year, there have already been 13 deaths of children left in hot cars in the United States—one in Georgia—and we haven’t reached the middle of the summer yet.”
As part of the demonstration, Board of Health officials placed a thermometer in a parked car that showed the temperature inside the car more than 10 degrees higher than the outside temperature even though the demonstration was on cloudy, relatively cool day. Even leaving windows open a little makes no difference, health officials say.
The warm months are also the time when children like to play outside and cars can be tempting places for childhood games. “Always leave the car locked when it’s in the driveway or any place children can get to it,” Ford advised. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 10 percent of motor-vehicle-related deaths to children do not occur in traffic. This includes children in parked cars that are struck by vehicles, children playing in cars who either disengage the brake or climb through to the trunk and become trapped, as well as children who are struck while playing in driveways and parking lots.
The Board of Health demonstration also included information on properly restraining children in vehicles to avoid serious injury or death in a crash. By state law, all children under age 6 must be properly restrained in a child safety seat approved for the child’s height and weight. The rule of thumb is that a child who’s 4 feet, 9 inches or shorter or less than 80 pounds requires restraints other than seat belts used by adults.
The department offered these reminders to adults caretakers:
• Never leave your child alone in a vehicle—even for a minute.
• Always have plenty of cold water on hand in case the car is hot and the child becomes thirsty.
• Set a cell phone reminder to drop children at school or daycare.
• Place a needed item such as a purse or briefcase next to the child. This forces the driver to notice that the child is still in the car.
• Arrange for the childcare provider to call if the child does not arrive when expected.
• Check the car, including the trunk, if a child is missing.
• Those who see a child left alone in a car should call 911.
• Watch for these signs of heat stroke: dizziness, confusion, rapid heartbeat, hot, dry skin, sluggishness; loss of consciousness; seizure and hallucinations.
For more information, visit www.dekalbhealth.net or www.usa.safekids.org.