Neglected car safety tragic for kids, pets

'Decision to choose perceived convenience over safety can have tragic consequences'

The stories make the news again and again. On average, 37 children have died of heatstroke every year since 1998 from being left in a hot car, according to safercar.gov. As of June 27, 18 children have already died from vehicle-related heatstroke this year.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) has joined with other advocacy groups and safety organizations to warn drivers of the dangers of hot vehicles.

“Drivers may think they can leave children and pets unattended in a vehicle while they complete a quick errand,” says Matthew Conde, public affairs director for AAA Idaho. “The decision to choose perceived convenience over safety can have tragic consequences.”

Parents offered tips via Facebook last week for not forgetting children and pets in the car:

“Sleep — and accepting we can’t do it all,” said Reyna Phillips of Grangeville. “It seems we are stressing ourselves to the point of exhaustion which is when our memory gets affected.”

“Put your purse in the area where the kids are,” said Becky Sorensen of Bellingham, Wash., who is a mother and grandmother and also provides in-home child care. “Most women take their purse everywhere.”

“Talk to them while driving,” offered Kim Burns Fillmore of Nampa.

“Let the kid hold onto your phone,” stated Savannah Thanstrom of Grangeville, a sophomore at Northwest Nazarene University.

“Al Roker suggested putting a package of diapers in the front passenger seat [as a reminder],” said former Grangeville resident Kathy Stefani, now of Moscow.

“I’ve heard of people having an old style puffy hair band and leaving it in the child’s car seat and then putting it on while they are in the car seat. It helps as a visual reminder,” said former Grangeville resident Ann Clark, mother of three, of Newport, Ore. “I think it comes with people being too preoccupied and busy to focus, or lacking in parental skills all together. I have to take the kids with me wherever I go and I still check the car seats when I get to run an errand alone. We don’t have pets but I have seen people here put up sunshades that say, dog in car has water and food, with the windows cracked.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration notes that a child’s body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult’s. A car interior can heat up by 20 degrees in as little as 10 minutes, and heat fatalities can occur in vehicles parked in shaded areas and when air temperatures are 80 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Heatstroke can occur in temperatures as low as 57 degrees.

“We need to change the perception that it has to be 110 degrees outside before heat becomes a safety risk,” Conde emphasized. “When it comes to heat, a stationary vehicle can be as dangerous as a car speeding down the freeway.” NHTSA is sponsoring a National Heatstroke Prevention Day Monday, July 31.

NHTSA reports that in 54 percent of heatstroke fatalities, the child was forgotten by the caregiver. In 28 percent of cases, children got into the vehicle on their own, and were not able to get out. Approximately 17 percent were intentionally left in the vehicle by an adult. Children younger than 1 year of age are most susceptible, representing 32 percent of heatstroke deaths.

AAA urges parents to never leave children unattended in a vehicle, even for a few minutes. They should also lock their car at all times, and store the keys out of the reach of small children, as they may try to play in a parked vehicle.

“If you see a child unattended in a vehicle, it’s up to you to take action,” Conde said. “Call 911 immediately to report the emergency and to receive instructions. A life may depend on it.”

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