Every summer as the temperatures begin to rise, we are confronted with the tragic tale of yet another infant or toddler who has died of a heat stroke after being left unattended in a car. The most recent news story comes from Cobb County, Georgia where authorities arrested Justin Harris on murder and child cruelty charges after he left his 22-month old son, Cooper, strapped in his car seat all day. The boy had been in his car seat for almost seven hours by the time that his father discovered him. Temperatures outside were almost 90 degrees.
Mr. Harris—whom many describe as a doting and conscientious dad—has pleaded not guilty, saying that he was supposed to take Cooper into daycare at 8:30, but instead went straight to work, forgetting that Cooper was in the back seat.
So far this year, there have been at least 13 heatstroke deaths of children left in vehicles; in 2013, there were at least 44 reported. In more than half of the 619 fatalities reported since 1998, the parents or caregivers claimed they had “forgotten” that their child was in the vehicle; another one-third of the fatalities occurred after the child got trapped in the vehicle while playing in it. A survey conducted by the Department of Earth and Climate Sciences at San Francisco State University found that only 18% of all heatstroke fatalities were due to a child having been intentionally left in the car.
With the summer months and hot weather upon us, the tragic hot car death of Conner Cooper is a good time to review strategies for preventing heatstroke death of children in vehicles:
- Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even for “just a minute”.
- Partially rolling down or cracking a window is not sufficient for cooling down a car. Never leave your child in a vehicle in any event!
- If your spouse or caregiver is dropping off your child at daycare, but you normally have that responsibility, call to make sure that they dropped him/her off. Better safe than sorry.
- Leave your child’s diaper bag in the front seat and your phone and briefcase in the back as “reminders” that your child is in the back seat.
- Ask your daycare to always call you if your child doesn’t show up.
- Place a note on your dashboard to remind you that your child is in the backseat.
- Download a baby reminder app on your cell phone.
- Make sure to look throughout your vehicle before walking away.
- Always lock your car to ensure that a child cannot get into it while playing.
- Within just 10 minutes, a closed car can become 20 degrees hotter than the outside temperature.
- With temperatures as low as in the 60s, your car can heat up to above 110 degrees.
- A child’s body temperature can rise five times faster than an adult’s.
- Heatstroke can happen when the temperature is as low as 57 degrees outside.
- A child dies when his/her temperature reaches 107.
- The death of a child caused by heat
- Possible misdemeanor or felony charge and imprisonment
- A lifetime of guilt and sorrow
IF YOU SEE A CHILD UNATTENDED IN A VEHICLE, CALL 911!
If the child is distressed due to the heat, remove him/her from the vehicle as quickly as possible. While waiting for medical help to arrive, cool the child with water and cool compresses. Never give a child an ice bath. This can send them into shock and cause cold burns.