Minutes matter: What you should do if you see a child locked in a hot car
Minutes can be the difference between life and death or severe brain damage for young children
The sweltering heat across the U.S. has so far led to six hot car deaths this year, according to a leading child safety organization.
Children are left unattended in or around vehicles every day, and it’s a danger many people greatly underestimate. On average, 38 children die in hot cars every year. That's one child every nine days, according to Kids and Car Safety.
Most recently, a Texas mother was rushing home to prepare for her 8-year-old daughter's birthday party and mistakenly left her 5-year-old son in a vehicle for 2 to 3 hours as temperatures climbed to 100 degrees, authorities said.
Over 1,000 children have died in hot cars nationwide since 1990, Kids and Car Safety reports. With triple-digit temperatures baking the southern U.S., protecting children from this potentially dangerous heat is important.
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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said if you see a child alone in a car, don’t worry about getting involved in someone else’s business – protecting children is everyone’s business.
Good Samaritan laws also offer legal protection for those who offer assistance in an emergency.
"Any time you see a child alone in a vehicle, you should immediately call 911," Kids and Car Safety Director Amber Rollins said. "You don't know how long that child has been there or how long they're going to be left."
This is important, especially in the heat, when literally minutes can be the difference between life and death or severe brain damage for a young child.
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If the child is not responsive or is in distress, immediately:
- Call 911.
- Get the child out of the car.
- Spray the child with cool water (not in an ice bath).
- If the child is responsive, stay with them until help arrives and have someone else search for the driver or ask the facility to page them.
"Getting them out of that car and cooling them down as quickly as possible is the absolute most important thing to do," Rollins said.
Window-breaking tools are available that make freeing the child very simple.
"Anybody can use them. You can carry them on your keychain," Rollins said.
The important thing, Rollins said, is getting them into an air-conditioned space. You can also use wet rags, ice packs or fans to cool their body down.
"Lowering that body temperature can actually reverse the dangerous effects of that heat stroke for the child," Rollins said.
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Vehicle-related accidents are the number one killer of children in the U.S., but parents can prevent something like these from happening.
"The number one thing is we want people to really take this danger seriously," Rollins said.
Set a reminder
While many people think this is something that would never happen to them, they aren’t taking steps or creating habits to prevent it from happening, Rollins warned.
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"What we want you to do is take a stuffed animal, keep it in your car seat. Any time you put the baby in the car seat, you move that animal up to the front seat with you as a visual reminder that the child is with you," she said.
"But it does happen to really wonderful, loving parents," she added. "So get that reminder item."
If your child goes to daycare or a relative watches them, you should also have a policy that they'll call you immediately if your child does not show up.
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