PITTSBURGH – It’s a startling statistic. Hot summer weather hasn’t even officially arrived, and already five children have died in the United States this year in hot cars.
On a warm day, the temperature inside a vehicle can increase by 20 degrees in just 10 minutes. A child dies after being left in a hot car every nine days in this country. Pennsylvania senators are currently working to reintroduce a bill that would grant immunity to anyone who breaks into a locked vehicle to rescue a child left inside.
Experts are also warning parents about the dangers of leaving children unattended.
“Everyone immediately wants to judge and jump to the conclusion that it’s a bad parent, and that they don’t love and care for their kids,” says Janette Fennell, the President and Founder of www.KidsAndCars.org.
The company has been tracking the number of hot car deaths that occur in the U.S. for more than 20 years.
Fennell says that 90 percent of the time, the parents involved are good, dedicated parents. But, they’re often sleep-deprived and zone out while heading to work.
“It is not unusual, at the end of their day, for a parent to drive to daycare to pick up their child up only to be told their child was never dropped off,” says Fennell. “I mean, they drove back to the daycare facility knowing the child is there, and then they find out the child has been in the car all day.”
Fennell also says that 87 percent of the time, the cases involve children younger than 3 years of age. Infants – children under the age of 1 – are most at risk. The reason? They ride in rear-facing car seats, and often fall asleep during trips in the car. A sleeping baby is often a silent baby, and their presence can go unnoticed.
Fennell says a simple mantra can help keep your children safe: Look before you lock. Always check to be sure your kids are out of the car. Or, put something you need in the back seat – something like your cell phone or your employee badge. Doing so will force you to turn around or physically get out of the car to retrieve the item.
“Have a stuffed animal in the child’s car seat all the time, so when you put your child in that car seat, the stuffed animal goes up front in the passenger’s seat. We are very cue dependent as adults,” says Fennell. “Teddy bear up front, baby in the back.”
Fennell also says the biggest mistake parents make is thinking it can’t happen to them.