Every summer we hear of heartbreaking stories of preventable deaths when kids or animals are left alone in hot cars. According to kidsandcars.org, on average 38 children die in hot cars each year from heat-related deaths. Even the best of parents or caregivers can unknowingly leave a child in a car, so we must be aware of the dangers.
Here are steps to prevent these tragedies:
1. Don't leave your child in the car, no matter what, even for a brief time.
A car is like a greenhouse and temperatures can rise very quickly, even with the windows open. There is no safe amount of time to leave a child (or pet) alone in the car. Children are especially vulnerable to heat-related injuries and aren't able to sweat as well as adults to cool down.
I know it is cumbersome and annoying to buckle and unbuckle your child from their car seat. And it's difficult to move a sleeping child. I have been there and am still there! But, if you leave your child in the car, even for a brief few minutes, there can be serious, life altering consequences. You may get distracted, or forget about your child, or something could happen to you that could impair your ability to tell someone else your kids are in the car. Take them with you 100% of the time. Or just don't stop to get out. It is way too risky.
Mere minutes in the car can prove fatal.
2. Know the risks
As the car gets warmer, a child's body temperature will rise, causing heat-stroke. When the body temperature exceeds 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), the brain's temperature control centre gets overwhelmed, causing disorientation, confusion, dizziness, seizures, loss of consciousness and death. This can happen within minutes of leaving the car. MINUTES.
3. Use a reminder system
Many of us have briefly forgotten that our child/children were in the car with us, especially if they have fallen asleep. When you are in a rush and distracted, you may need a gentle reminder that they are with you. This is especially true if there is a break from your routine. For example, let's say your partner typically drives your child to daycare, and you drive to work. Today you are driving your child to daycare and then to work. It is easy to forget that you have your child in the car when you don't usually. You arrive at work and your child is asleep in your backseat, behind you, where you have no visual cues that he or she is there. Just think of how often your normal routine is changed and how easily you can be thrown off your game.
What can you do? Give yourself reminders out loud as you drive or place items around that will act as a visual reminder. Place your purse in the back seat or the diaper bag beside you. Use anything that will jog your memory that your child is with you. An easy trick - leave a large stuffed animal in your child's car seat. When you are driving with your child, the stuffed animal is placed next to you in the passengers seat as the reminder. Easy!
4. Keep kids out of the car when you aren't there
The car is a fun place for a child with so many buttons and the steering wheel. Some kids may be curious and wander in there looking for an adventure. Some kids can climb in but the door may be too heavy to open from the inside. Or they become trapped inside by child safety locks.
Talk to your kids about car safety and never allow them to play in there without you. Keep your car door locked and keys away from curious hands.
5. Look before you lock
Get in the habit of opening the back door after you park to ensure there is no one there. It's a simple step that will become routine very quickly.
6. Use drive thru-s when available
Need to grab some food or cash? Use a drive through so you can stay in your car with the kids.
7. Get involved
If you see a child or pet in a hot vehicle, call 911 immediately. You may save a life.
Bear in mind, this can happen to you and to any great parent. We have a million things going on and distraction is all around is. Let's keep our kids safe!
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