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Sweltering cars fatal to young children

At least 23 children nationwide have died this summer after being left unattended in hot, parked cars. Several of these deaths occurred within recent weeks. With more weeks of summer weather ahead, the Idaho Transportation Department joins safety advocates and other transportation officials to remind parents that leaving children unattended in a vehicle can have deadly consequences.

Such was the case in Boise late last month when a 10-week-old infant died after spending eight hours in the family SUV. Temperatures that day reached 106 degrees.

Temperatures inside cars can soar within a matter of minutes. According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW), inside car temperatures can reach as high as 150 degrees in as little as 10 minutes. As heat takes effect, a child's temperature increases. As body temperature rises above 106 degrees, the risk of permanent brain damage rapidly increases, and death can result.

“Temperatures rise rapidly in a vehicle, no matter whether it is parked in the shade or sun,” said Dr. Jeffrey W. Runge, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “Children can't take that intense heat and can die in a matter of minutes. The real tragedy is that these deaths are totally preventable.”

While nobody would intentionally place their children at such a risk, say IDHW officials, in the rush to complete a quick errand, someone might make the mistake of thinking children would be safe in the car for a few minutes. On the contrary, it’s never safe to leave a child (or a pet) in a parked car.

From 1996 to the present, nearly 200 children died of heat-related injuries after being left in parked cars. Children 3 and younger accounted for more than 90 percent of the deaths. Most of the children were in child safety seats and left behind or forgotten by an adult (as was the case in Boise), while others gained access to an unlocked car and could not get out.

The national SAFE KIDS campaign offers the following safety precautions to combat heat-related injuries in cars:
  • Never leave your child unattended in a motor vehicle, even with a window open.
  • Teach children not to play in, on or around cars. Once inside vehicles equipped with child-resistent interior locks, young children have no way to escape.
  • Be wary of child-resistant locks. Teach older children how they can unlock the door if they become trapped in a motor vehicle.
  • Always lock car doors and trunks and keep keys out of children's reach.
  • Watch children closely around cars, particularly when loading or unloading items.
  • Ensure that all children exit the vehicle at your destination.
  • Don't overlook sleeping infants.
  • Place an unmistakable reminder of a child's presence where you'll be sure to see it before you leave the vehicle.For example, place a diaper bag right next to you, your briefcase or your lunch bag.
  • Check to make sure seat surfaces and equipment (car seat and seat buckles) aren’t too hot.
  • Car trunks can also be especially hazardous. In very hot weather, within minutes a child trapped in a trunk can suffer a heat stroke that leads to permanent disability or even death. Keep these safety precautions in mind:
  • Keep the trunk of your car locked at all times, especially when parked in the driveway or near the home.
  • Keep rear fold-down seats closed to help prevent kids from getting into the trunk from the passenger area of a car.
  • Put car keys out of children's reach and sight.

For the third year in a row, SAFE KIDS and General Motors are conducting a national public awareness campaign aimed at educating parents and caregivers about the dangers of leaving children unattended in motor vehicles. The "Never Leave Your Child Alone" initiative includes brochures in English and Spanish that deliver potentially lifesaving information. Brochures can be downloaded at www.safekids.org* and www.gmability.com or ordered by calling 866-700-0001 (press/choose option number 2).