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Heatstroke is Leading Cause of Non-Crash Deaths for Children in Cars: NHTSA

As the U.S. reaches the height of summer heat, federal highway safety officials are reminding parents and caregivers about the serious risk of heatstroke that may result from leaving children unattended in vehicles, indicating that more than two dozen children have already been killed this year. 

On July 31, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in conjunction with Safe Kids Worldwide, issued a press release warning that heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash related vehicle fatalities for kids younger than 14 years of age. Those deaths could be prevented by not leaving children in hot cars unattended for durations of time.

The warning was part of National Heatstroke Prevention Day on July 31. However, Department of Transportation records indicate that it already came too late for at least 26 children this year, who died of heatstroke after being left unattended in vehicles nationwide.

Often, parents and caregivers running errands may intend to make a quick stop, and rather than having children go into the store with them, will opt to leave them in the car for short periods of time. However, this can be a fatal mistake, as the NHTSA cautions temperatures inside of a vehicle can reach deadly levels within just 10 minutes.

The NHTSA and the child safety advocate organization, Safe Kids Worldwide, released a series of suggestions for parents and caregivers to follow when traveling with children, mainly designed to remind the driver that the child is in the vehicle, such as:

  • Placing a cell phone, briefcase or other important object next to the child’s car seat which forces you to check the back seat before exiting the vehicle.
  • Calling a spouse or caregiver to confirm you have dropped the child off
  • Having a daycare provider call you if the child does not arrive
  • Writing a note and placing it on the dashboard or setting a reminder on the cell phone or calendar.

Just this month, Senators Richard Blumenthal and Al Franken introduced a bill titled the HOT CARS Act (Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in the Rear Seat), which would introduce technology to prevent these types of abandonment hazards.

The bill would require vehicles to be equipped with sensors on the back seats, which would provide alerts to drivers to check their backseats when the vehicle is turned off. The senators claim the sensors would be no different than other safety alerts, such as tire pressure, check engine lights, or akin vehicle sensors.

The NHTSA and Safe Kids Worldwide are urging bystanders to always take action if they notice a child left in a vehicle, particularly on a hot day. Bystanders are being encouraged to always check to see if the child is responsive and alert, and if not to call 911 immediately. In the event the child is responsive and alert, bystanders should attempt to locate the parents or the nearby facility to locate them by alerting over the venues PA system, and if the child is not responsive to attempt to get into the car to assist, even if breaking the window is the only option.

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