Cars

Here’s how to prevent one

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USA Today NetworkRobert Gundran and Kevin Jenkins, USA TODAY Network
Published 7:45 a.m. ET July 31, 2017

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The heat can kill. When temperatures outside reach 100 degrees, temperatures inside a car can get up to 138 degrees in 5 minutes and 150 degrees in 15 minutes. Here are ideas on how to reduce the risk of forgetting about a child or pet in a hot car.
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PHOENIX — The recent deaths of two Arizona children after being left in hot cars have sparked outrage and accusations of neglect and carelessness.

On Friday, 7-month-old Zane Endress died after being left in a car in northeast Phoenix for about four hours, according to Phoenix police. About 24 hours later, 1-year-old Josiah Riggins died after being left for hours in a hot car.

Pediatric experts say any parent or caregiver, “even a very loving and attentive one,” can forget a child is in the back seat when busy, distracted or experiencing a change in routine.

On average, nearly 40 U.S. children die in hot cars every year. According to KidsandCars.org, there have been 30 hot-car deaths this year. There were 39 such deaths in 2016 and 24 in 2015. The deadliest year within the recorded period was 2010, when there were 49.

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Car-related heatstroke can strike with outside temperatures as low as 57 degrees, since the temperature within a car can climb 20 degrees or more in 10 minutes. Young children are more susceptible to heatstroke because their bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults’ bodies.

Advocates suggest that new technology should become standard for drivers who have small children in a rear seat. In an era when buzzers remind drivers to put on their seatbelts or take their keys out of the ignition, a dashboard reminder involving child seats could be next.

Some people have suggested low-tech solutions, such as putting stickers on the steering wheel to remind drivers if the back seat is occupied, or to keep a stuffed animal in the child’s car seat that gets moved up front by the driver when the child seat is occupied.

On June 7, three members of the U.S. House of Representatives introduced legislation they’re calling the Hot Cars Act of 2017, an acronym for Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats.

The bipartisan sponsors of the bill said the measure would require the Transportation Department to issue a final rule requiring cars to be equipped with an electronic system to alert drivers if a passenger remains in the back seat when a car is turned off.

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“No child should endure the tragedy of dying while trapped in a hot vehicle. The unfortunate reality is that even good, loving and attentive parents can get distracted. Studies have shown that this can happen to anyone, anywhere,” Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, said in a press statement at the time.

“The belief is that it can’t happen to you, always someone else. Unfortunately it happens over and over again, even to the most conscientious parents. Technology is available and it can be placed in new vehicles to protect innocent children. It’s really that simple,” said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.

The timing of the bill’s introduction coincided with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s National Vehicular Heatstroke Prevention Campaign, but no timeline for action on the bill was announced.

With Monday is National Heatstroke Prevention Day.

In the meantime, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following strategies to minimize child deaths in hot cars.

• Do not leave a small child alone in a car under any circumstances. Not even for a minute. Not even if the car and air conditioning are on. 

• Avoid distractions while driving, especially using a cellphone.

• Keep your car locked when no one is in it. Some hot-car deaths happen after children climb into unlocked vehicles. Experts say to store car keys out of a child’s reach.

• Teach children cars are not play spaces. Keep rear fold-down seats upright to stop kids from crawling into the trunk from inside the car. 

• Consider the shoe trick. Leave something in the backseat you can’t leave without, such as a shoe, cellphone or purse. 

• Be extra alert when your routine changes, such as when you take a different route or when someone else is driving your child. Ask your child-care provider to call if your child is more than 10 minutes late.

• If you see a child alone in a backseat, call 911 immediately. The child’s temperature is rising every minute. 

Robert Gundran reports for The Arizona Republic; Kevin Jenkins for The (St. George, Utah) Spectrum. Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow Gundran and Jenkins on Twitter: @RobertGundran and @SpectrumJenkins

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