Risk Management Magazine

Search for Articles

Fatal Distraction

Fatal Distraction

Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland

Two decades ago, fatalities caused from leaving children in vehicles were somewhat rare. That has changed in recent years. From 2000-2013, 536 children died of heatstroke in vehicles, according to statistics provided by kidsandcars.org, a national organization solely dedicated to keeping children safe in and around motor vehicles. With warmer temperatures on the horizon, it’s important we take a moment to familiarize ourselves with this avoidable tragedy.

Death by hyperthermia is the official designation of this event. In its advanced state, it is referred to as heat stroke, an acute condition which occurs where the body produces (absorbs) more heat than it can dissipate. Body temperatures above 104 F are life-threatening (heat stroke); at 106 F brain death begins; and if it’s over 107 F, death is nearly certain. It can affect the wealthy, poor and middle class. It can happen to the chronically absent-minded to the fanatically organized. An otherwise loving and attentive parent may get distracted, run into the store for a quick snack and just forget a child is left in the car.

Studies have found that on days when ambient temperatures exceed 86 F, the internal temperatures of a vehicle can quickly reach 134 to 154 F. Vehicles can heat up rapidly within the first 15 to 30 minutes (30 minutes can equal 34 F rise in temperature inside the car). Leaving the windows open slightly does not decrease the heating process at all.

Over the past decade, hundreds of children have died as a result of being in a hot vehicle. The facts in each case differ, but there is always the terrible moment when the parent realizes what he or she has done, followed by a frantic rush back to the car. Some of these parents have even been charged with the deaths of their child. The Maryland Family Law Article 5-801 states that children under 8 years old may not be locked or confined in a vehicle out of sight of the guardian. It is considered a misdemeanor offense with a $500 fine or 30 days imprisonment. The offense can become a felony if there are resulting injuries.

Several parent-based organizations are raising public awareness that a momentary lapse in memory can be deadly. Kidsandcars.org offers the following safety tips to hopes of preventing parents from forgetting their child is inside the vehicle:

  • Never leave children alone in or around cars — not even for a minute.
  • Put something you’ll need — such as your cellphone, handbag, employee ID or brief case, etc. — on the floor board in the back seat.
  • Get in the habit of always opening the back door of your vehicle every time you reach your destination to make sure no child has been left behind. This will soon become a habit.
  • Keep a large stuffed animal in the child's car seat when it’s not occupied. When the child is placed in the seat, put the stuffed animal in the front passenger seat. It's a visual reminder that anytime the stuffed animal is up front you know the child is in the back seat in a child safety seat.
  • Make arrangements with your child’s daycare center or babysitter that you will always call if your child will not be there on a particular day as scheduled.
  • Keep vehicles locked at all times — even in the garage or driveway — and always set the parking brake.
  • Keys and/or remote openers should never be left within reach of children.
  • Make sure all child passengers have left the vehicle after it is parked.
  • When a child is missing, check vehicles and car trunks immediately.
  • If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. If they are hot or seem sick, get them out as quickly as possible. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
  • Use drive‐thru services when available (restaurants, banks, pharmacies, dry cleaners, etc.)

The bottom line is parents must remain extra alert of their precious cargo. As some parents know all too well, a moment of forgetfulness can result in a lifetime of regret.

  • 1 April 2015
  • Author: Army Safety
  • Number of views: 10276
  • Comments: 0