More than 20 children under the age of 5 have already died this year after becoming overheated in parked, unattended vehicles, according to Jan Null, CCM, a professor at San Francisco University who tracks heat stroke deaths of children in cars.
Tragically that number is likely to rise as summer continues.
More than 600 children have died from hyperthermia, the medical term for overheating, in parked cars in the past decade, according to Kids and Cars, a child safety advocacy group. That number has increased ten-fold since concerns about the dangers of front airbag deployment relegated children to the rear seat, where they are more easily forgotten.
Children's internal temperature rises at three to five times the rate of adults'. At the same time, a parked car's interior can heat up by 19 degrees in the first 10 minutes, and more than 40 degrees in an hour. Even in mild temperatures of 70 degrees, the inside of a car can surpass a heat of 110, even with the windows open a crack.
Statistics show 20 percent of these tragic cases occurred when a parent or caregiver forgot to drop a child off at daycare in the morning, continuing on with their busy day with the child locked in the rear seat, according to Null.
To help prevent such tragedies, the International Parking Institute (IPI) urges drivers to routinely put their cell phones, purses, or briefcases in the back seat, out of reach of children, but as a reminder to check the back seat.
While there are devices on the market that have sensors and warning systems to alert drivers when a child is in the car, a study by Consumer Reports last year found them unreliable.
Child safety groups recommend parents make it a habit to "look before they lock" and coordinate with daycare providers to call if your child does not show up as scheduled. Other tips include placing a large stuffed animal in the child's car seat when empty - and moving it to the front seat when traveling with a child as a visual reminder.
IPI Executive Director Shawn Conrad, CAE, says it is also important to take action if you see an unattended child in any parked car. In these cases, calling 9-1-1 will bring assistance from a local police or fire department that can open the car while parents are located.
The International Parking Institute is the world's largest association representing parking professionals and the parking industry. www.parking.org.
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