In summer's heat, never leave children in unattended vehicles

Thursday, June 30, 2005

I'd like to call your readers' attention to a serious problem that appears to increase with the temperature: leaving children in unattended vehicles.

When left alone in a car, even for a short time, a child is in danger of heat stroke, dehydration, injury and abduction.

The Children's Trust Fund, Missouri's foundation for child abuse prevention and neglect, is urging parents to never leave children alone in or around an automobile -- not even for a minute.

Temperatures in cars soar quickly.

According to research, when the outside temperature is 93 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature inside a car can reach 125 degrees in just 20 minutes, and can reach 140 degrees in 40 minutes, even with a window cracked open.

In these extreme conditions, children can die or suffer permanent disabilities in a matter of minutes.

A minute is all it takes for a child to become ill from heat or car fumes. A minute is all it takes for someone to break into a vehicle and abduct a child. And a minute is all it takes for a child to climb out of a car seat and shift the car into gear.

However, these are car accidents that can be prevented. The Children's Trust Fund urges parents to remember the following tips for keeping kids safe:

* Never leave children alone or unsupervised in an automobile, not even with the windows down. (This applies to pets as well.)

* Always lock car doors and trunks, even at home. Unlocked cars pose a risk to children who are naturally curious and often lack fear.

* Always put your keys in a safe and secure place and keep them out of children's reach.

* Teach your children the dangers of a car and let them know that it is not a toy or playground.

* Check to ensure that all child passengers leave the vehicle when you reach your destination. Don't overlook sleeping infants.

* Be wary of child-resistant locks. Teach older children how to disable the driver's door locks if they become trapped in a car.

* Try to plan ahead when you have errands to run. Ask your spouse, a trusted neighbor or a friend to watch your child. The errands will be completed sooner, you will be less stressed and your child will be happy to see you when you return home.

* If you must take your child with you, try to use drive-up windows at your bank, dry cleaners and other businesses that have them.

* Call the police if you see a child in a car without adult supervision.

According to www.kidsincars.org, approximately one-fourth of the non-traffic, non-crash child fatalities between 2000 and 2004 were a result of children being left in vehicles during hot weather. Saving children from these preventable deaths and injuries takes both education and parental diligence.

A final reminder: Never leave a child alone in a car. Not even for a minute.

Bill Heberle is executive director of Children's Trust Fund in Jefferson City, Mo.

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