Children at risk in hot cars

With summer approaching, the danger of children dying from being left unattended in vehicles increases, a Texas AgriLife Extension Service specialist warns.

"The problem is that temperatures in parked vehicles rise very quickly," said Bev Kellner, AgriLife Extension passenger safety specialist.

In just 10 minutes the temperature can increase by almost 20 degrees, according to figures from San Francisco State University's department of geosciences.

A child's body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult making children more vulnerable to a deadly condition known as hyperthermia or heat stroke, Kellner noted. Heat stroke can occur at body temperatures above 104 degrees.

"Even mild outside temperatures can pose a threat, but with Texas temperatures climbing into the upper 90's each day the danger becomes even greater," she said.

There were nine vehicle heatrelated deaths in Texas last year. Nationally, there were 42, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

For the years 1998-2008, Texas leads the nation with the highest number of vehicle hyperthermia deaths with 52, Kellner said.

In more than half of the cases during that time period, the death was due to the child being 'forgotten' by the caregiver, she said. Such deaths are preventable when parents take precautions to make sure that children are not left alone in vehicles and cannot gain access to unlocked vehicles.

According to National Safe Kids, one-third of the heat-related deaths in 2000 were due to children becoming trapped in a vehicle they had crawled into.

Kellner noted, following these safety tips from the highway traffic safety administration can help caregivers reduce the risk of children being left unattended in hot vehicles:

• Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle, even if the windows are partially open.

• Do not let children play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them that a vehicle is not a play area.

• Make a habit of looking in the vehicle, front and back, before locking the door and walking away.

• If you are dropping a child off at childcare, and normally it's your spouse or partner who drops them off, have your spouse or partner call you to make sure the drop went according to plan.

• Ask your childcare provider to call you if your child does not show up for childcare.

• Do things to remind yourself that a child is in the vehicle, such as writing yourself a note and putting the note where you will see it when you leave the vehicle; placing your purse, briefcase or something else you need in the back seat so that you will have to check the back seat when you leave the vehicle. Another reminder is to keep an object in the car seat, such as a stuffed toy. When the child is buckled in, place the object where the driver will notice it when he or she is leaving the vehicle.

• Always lock vehicle doors and trunks and keep keys out of children's reach.

• If a child is missing, check the vehicle first, including the trunk.

• If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call the police.

• If a child is in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible. Cool the child rapidly. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

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2009-06-25 digital edition

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