Parents reminded to take steps to protect children around parked cars
The possibility of being injured in a vehicular accident isn't the only risk small children face from cars.
Even a parked vehicle could be a hazard, whether a child is forgotten or accidentally locked in the vehicle, warned Mike Erfert, administrative fire officer for the Yuma Fire Department.
“A car can get hot fast and it doesn't take high temperatures,” he said. “Cars literally turn into solar ovens and infants and small children are particularly susceptible to heat.”
There were at least 31 deaths of children in the United States in 2012 due to hyperthermia (heat stroke) after being left in hot cars, trucks, vans and SUVs, according to http://ggweather.com/heat.
Since 1998, there have been at least 556 of these needless tragedies, the website reports. A study shows that these incidents can occur on days with relatively mild (less than 70 degrees) temperatures and that vehicles can reach life-threatening temperatures very rapidly.
In the most recent three-year period of 2009-2011, when almost all young children are now placed in back seats instead of front seats, there have been at least 118 known fatalities from hyperthermia, a ten-fold increase from the rate of the early 1990s, according to the website. The website noted that “this in no way implies that it is advocated that children be placed in the front seat or that air bags be disabled.”
While it's the safest place for them, putting children in back seats “has created an out-of-sight, out-of-mind scenario,” Erfert said. “The child is asleep and quiet ... that's when we get these horror stories.”
Despite the high summer heat in Arizona, the state doesn't have the highest rate of hyperthermia deaths among young children. Texas, Florida and California have more.
“We've been very fortunate in Yuma,” Erfert said. “We're so conscious of the extreme heat here we're maybe a little more aware.”
To be on the safe side, though, he advocated that drivers place something in the back seat they would never leave without, such as a purse or briefcase, as a reminder they have their child in the car.
Another suggestion is to keep a stuffed animal in the carseat. When the child is put in the seat, place the toy in the front so the driver sees it and again is reminded about the child in the backseat.
And make “look before you leave” a routine whenever you get out of the car. Another is “Beat the heat — check the back seat.”
Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle for even a minute, Erfert said.
As for children being accidentally locked in a car, that happens in almost weekly, he said.
Leaving the car running to keep it cool is another recipe for potential disaster as it could be easily stolen with the child inside, he said.
Erfert also urges people to lock their cars when they're parked and ensure children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices. And if a child is missing, always check the pool first, then the car, including the trunk.
“Children may play in an unattended car ... there are some real horror stories,” Erfert said. For example, there was a case elsewhere of three missing children and the neighborhood was searched. They were finally found locked in the trunk of a car in their yard, but it was too late.
Yet another potential hazard is children being in the way of a vehicle that is backing up, said Clay Lawson, president of Yuma County Safe Kids.
“My advice is to walk around a vehicle before backing up. It just takes five minutes but could save a child's life,” he said.
“I can't think of anything worse than backing over your own child.”
For other children's safety tips, visit Safe Kids website at yumasafekids.org or check out Safe Kids on Facebook.