The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Safe Kids Worldwide today announced a new partnership focused on preventing child deaths from heat stroke in the United States. As part of this joint effort, the nation’s top auto safety agency and one of the country’s most vocal child safety organizations will host public events throughout July to highlight the dangers of heatstroke. Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children under the age of 14, with at least 33 fatalities reported in 2011 alone.
“As we approach what is the hottest month of the year for most of the country, we’re working to get the message out to families with young children to take basic precautions to ensure a heatstroke tragedy never happens to them,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Parents and caregivers are the first line of defense against heatstroke deaths and injuries, but everyone in the community has a role to play in keeping our children safe.”
Today’s announcement builds on a national campaign launched by NHTSA this year calling on caregivers to think, “Where’s baby? Look before you lock.” Since 1998, at least 532 children nationwide have lost their lives to vehicular heatstroke, with most deaths occurring among children ages three and younger.
“Everything we know about this terrible danger to children indicates heatstroke in hot cars can happen to any caregiver from any walk of life – and the majority of these cases are accidental tragedies that can strike even the most loving and conscientious parents,” said NHTSA Administrator Strickland. “We hope our campaign not only helps caregivers avoid accidentally harming a child but also clears up some of the misconceptions about the causes of child heatstroke in cars.”
The July-focused effort was announced at a press conference in Nashville, Tennessee this afternoon where NHTSA and Safe Kids Worldwide, joined the Tennessee Department of Transportation officials and health professionals for a demonstration on just how quickly the inside of a vehicle can heat up. When outside temperatures are in the low 80s, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes, even with a window rolled down two inches. Children’s bodies in particular overheat easily, and infants and children under four years old are at the greatest risk for heat-related illness.
Data from the San Francisco State University Department of Geosciences show 33 children died last year due to heatstroke – medically termed “hyperthermia” – while there were at least 49 deaths in 2010. An unknown number of children are also injured each year due to heatstroke in hot cars, suffering ailments including permanent brain injury, blindness, and the loss of hearing, among others. Often heatstroke deaths and injuries occur after a child gets into an unlocked vehicle to play unbeknownst to the parent. Other incidents can occur when a parent or caregiver who is not used to transporting a child as part of their daily routine inadvertently forgets a sleeping infant in a rear-facing car seat in the back of the vehicle.
Through the partnership, NHTSA, Safe Kids, and its safety partners will visit Kentucky, North Carolina, Missouri, Georgia and Arizona to urge parents and caregivers to take the following precautions to prevent heatstroke incidents from occurring:
- Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle – even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on;
- Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away;
- Ask the childcare provider to call if the child does not show up for care as expected;
- Do things that serve as a reminder a child is in the vehicle, such as placing a purse or briefcase in the back seat to ensure no child is accidentally left in the vehicle, writing a note or using a stuffed animal placed in the driver’s view to indicate a child is in the car seat; and,
- Teach children a vehicle is not a play area and store keys out of a child’s reach.
In addition, NHTSA and Safe Kids urge community members who see a child alone in a hot vehicle to immediately call 911 or the local emergency number. A child in distress due to heat should be removed from the vehicle as quickly as possible and rapidly cooled with water.
To learn more about NHTSA’s “Where’s baby? Look before you lock.” campaign, visit www.SaferCar.gov/heatstroke.
Safe Kids supports NHTSA’s hyperthermia education campaign and the increased national coordination on the issue. In addition, with the support of the GM Foundation, Safe Kids and its network of 600 coalitions and chapters across the nation are helping to educate parents and caregivers through its hyperthermia awareness campaign, Never Leave Your Child Alone In a Car.
To learn more about Safe Kids’ “Never Leave Your Child Alone in a Car” campaign, visit www.safekids.org/heatstroke.