More than two dozen children in the United States have died this year due to heat stroke after being left unattended in vehicles.
The most recent case involved 15-month old twin girls in Carrollton, Georgia. Their father was charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter and reckless conduct. They are the 25th and 26th deaths this year.
The death of any child is tragic, but these events are largely preventable. While experts say some of those incidents may have been intentional, the vast majority are considered an accident, a parent or caregiver becoming distracted or breaking from their normal routine.
On average, 37 children die from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside vehicles, according to KidsAndCars.org. As a result, the group has produced an awareness campaign called “Look Before You Lock” to try to avoid future deaths of this type.
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The premise is pretty self explanatory, but the organization offers several tips designed to get drivers to make sure they don’t walk away from a vehicle without first checking the back seat:
- Get in the habit of always opening the back door of your vehicle before you leave, making sure no child is left behind.
- Put something you need, such as a cell phone, purse, briefcase or employee I.D. in the back seat.
- Keep a large stuffed animal in your child’s car seat when he or she isn’t in it. When you do put your child in the seat, move the stuffed animal to the front passenger seat to remind you.
Some automakers have taken up the cause as well. General Motors is offering a potential solution on its 2017 GMC Acadia SUV, a system it calls the Rear Seat Reminder. It’s designed to detect when a motorist puts something in the back seat and then issue an alert when they’re ready to exit the vehicle. Child safety experts are hailing the concept as a good first step – but they also lament the fact that several even more sophisticated systems promised over the years have failed to materialize.
“The problem is a serious one,” said Kate Carr, president and CEO of the advocacy group Safe Kids Worldwide. There have been 670 known “preventable deaths” of children locked inside overheated vehicles since 1998, a figure that has jumped as high as 49 in a single year.
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Drivers accidently leaving children in cars isn’t the only way this happens. Often, a child will climb into an unlocked vehicle, close the door and be unable to open it in time. KidsAndCars recommends keeping vehicles locked at all times, even if they are in a garage.
The group also suggests keeping car keys and remote openers out of reach of children. It’s also important to remain vigilant at all times about the issue. Parents and other caregivers often get busy during holiday periods, rushing from place to place and often that’s when these events occur.
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It doesn’t take long for the interior of a vehicle to reach temperatures that can be life-threatening to an infant or toddler. It can reach 125 degrees in a vehicle in less than 10 minutes. Combine that with the fact that a child’s body overheats three to five times faster than an adult’s and it doesn’t take long for a serious situation to occur, the group said.