Take time to be sure

Published 8:58 pm Friday, August 1, 2014

It’s the kind of topic that can turn a polite discussion into an argument, a friendly online chat into a boisterous dispute: What’s to blame for the rash of children who have died of hyperthermia because they’ve been left in hot cars by parents who forgot the children were there?

For many with an opinion on the subject, the rising number of deceased children signifies a culture of self absorption and self obsession. Too many parents, they argue, are not focused enough on their children, and too many children suffer and die because of it.

On the other hand are those who argue that the many distractions of modern life — combined with laws that require children to be in the back seat of vehicles and the normal propensity of people to become comfortable following regular schedules and routines — contributes to this terrible trend. Think, for example, how easy it is simply to lock your keys in the car when your routine is disrupted, they say.

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One thing is distressingly clear: The problem is growing. Prior to 1990, according to the nonprofit organization Kids and Cars, there were just 25 known incidences of children dying of heatstroke in cars. Since 1991, the numbers have risen appallingly quickly — 698 through 2013 — with no sign of abating. So far in 2014, 20 more cases have been reported, including one in Utah as recently as Friday.

Allowing for the rare parent with a desire to hurt his own child, it would be hard to imagine something more gut-wrenching than realizing one had caused her own child’s death out of absentmindedness. But it happens, and it happens more often and more quickly than most people realize.

The temperature in a parked car on a 90-degree day can quickly climb beyond 130 degrees, and a child left unattended will very quickly succumb to dehydration and heatstroke in such a situation, officials say.

AAA Tidewater has joined with SafeKids, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and General Motors in encouraging parents and caregivers to take steps to make sure their kids are safe.

Among the recommendations are the following:

  • Immediately call 9-1-1- if you notice a child unattended in a car.
  • Never leave car keys or car remote where children can get to them.
  • Always keep doors and windows locked to prevent kids from playing inside a vehicle.
  • Never leave a child unattended in a car, even if windows are tinted, cracked open or down.
  • Develop “look before leaving” routines. Ensure all kids exit the vehicle at your destination.
  • Create an electronic device reminder to make sure you dropped your child off at daycare.
  • Leave something needed for the day in the back seat with your baby — a briefcase, purse or shoes.
  • Develop a daycare drop-off plan so that if your child is late or isn’t at daycare, you’ll be called within a few minutes. Some children have been left in office parking lots by distracted adults forgetting to drop them off at day care.

It’s easy to say, “That would never happen to me.” And it’s likely every parent facing a life of guilt over the loss of a child in a hot car would have thought the same thing, right up to the time when they realized what they’d done.

If you’re a parent or a caregiver, take some time to be sure — every time you leave your vehicle.