Kids Left in Cars: What Can We Do?

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As my daughter and I dodged shredded tire treads on the freeway on the way to her oboe lesson, they reminded me that warm weather is here to stay and we should be cognizant of who is in the car at all times. As temps go up outside, they can climb even faster inside and anyone who is vulnerable—child, elderly person, or pet—can succumb to heat stroke in a short amount of time. Even moderate outside temperatures can produce deadly vehicle interior temperatures and cracking a window isn’t enough to air out the car.

When a vehicle is in the sun, it starts to heat up. We’ve all felt this when we’ve sat in a car with the engine off. What happens is the sun shines through the transparent windows and heats the surfaces in the car. The radiation from the sun touches the dashboard, steering wheel, and other solid objects, as well as floating air molecules we can’t see. Conduction works to heat the interior surfaces of the vehicle up quickly and convection moves the air molecules around faster and faster, causing them to heat at a rapid rate. Even leaving the windows down a crack doesn’t help because of the conduction heating the surfaces; the surfaces heat up, which cause the air inside to heat as well. What about a cloudy day where the sun’s rays aren’t shining through the windows? Let me tell you about the worst sunburn I ever got—on a cloudy day. The radiation from the sun still comes through the clouds and can heat that vehicle up.

The SUV in the picture below was left in the sun on a very pleasant morning for about a half hour. During that time, while the outside temperature was 66º, the inside temperature rose to 128º. The vehicle was set up for my Safe Kids coalition’s press conference and rescue demonstration kicking off our Heatstroke Awareness Campaign.

SUV in sun ready for rescue

A child left in the vehicle is at serious risk for heat stroke or death. Heat stroke is when the body’s temperature rises above 104º. A child’s body temperature rises 3-5 times faster than an adult’s and symptoms of heat stroke include red, hot, moist or dry skin, lack of sweating (their bodies have reached a point where they can’t cool down on their own anymore), headache, dizziness, confusion, and nausea. When a child’s body reaches 107º, their organs will shut down and death most likely will occur.

As much as we try to educate parents not to leave their children in vehicles, last year there were 30 children who died left in vehicles. Some of these deaths were accidental and some were intentional. It’s the accidental deaths where we can make an impact by making a few changes in our habits. But habits are hard to change and we have to be intentional in changing them. Can you imagine being this guy, who accidentally left his sleeping child in his SUV at the train station parking lot and remembered her when he got into the city? That had to have been the longest train ride back out to get her.

Time and again, a break in routine has been the reason a child has been left behind in a vehicle. The parent with the child is doing something out of the ordinary and forgets that the child is in the car or a daycare provider is overwhelmed with the number of children in the van and forgets the quiet one. From 1998-2014, 53% of children who died from heatstroke in vehicles were forgotten about by their caregivers. During that same time period, 29% were children who accidentally locked themselves in a vehicle while playing, and adults intentionally left 17% in the vehicle.

How can we address this problem and prevent it from happening again? First, we can stop blaming the victims and recognize everyone has the potential to forget their child. Sleep deprivation is a serious problem at some point for everyone who has a child and it can make your brain act in ways it normally wouldn’t. Laws may help dissuade caregivers who casually leave their children in vehicles as they run errands or get manicures, but they aren’t going to make a difference for those who forget their children. If you forget a child, you’re not going to remember them because of the threat of going to jail. Nineteen states have laws regarding unattended children in vehicles. Second, let’s be proactive, both as parents driving our children and as community members. Look in the car next to you as you get out to make sure a child, pet, or elderly person wasn’t left behind. Look in your business parking lots on broiling hot days AND teeth-chattering cold days. Safe Kids Worldwide gives us this handy acronym to help us remember to ACT to save lives:

A: Avoid heatstroke by never leaving a child alone in a car and by locking your vehicle so a child can’t get trapped inside accidentally.

C: Create reminders for yourself by putting your cellphone or wallet in the back seat next to the carseat. Also have your daycare provider call you and your significant other when the child is late or absent from daycare.

T: Take action if you see a child alone in a vehicle. This is an emergency and emergency personnel want you to call 911. Be cautious about breaking a vehicle window because you or someone else could be injured.

wheresbaby4

 

Thanks to Jan Null, CCM, San Jose State University for providing data and studying this topic for so many years!

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Carseat “Rules”. Do They Apply to You? Really?

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  • Child Passenger Safety Social Media CommandmentsYou must not turn them forward-facing until 4 years old
  • You can’t have 3-across carseats since your seatbelts overlap
  • Don’t use a top tether because your child is 65 pounds
  • You can’t have the handle up like that in the car.

Have you been told one or more of these Child Passenger Safety “Rules”, or at least something similar?

Most likely, the commandment was told to you as if it was etched on a stone tablet, but where did it actually come from? Is it the law?  Is it in a manual?  Is it advice from a reputable organization?  Something quoted from a research paper or told to you by a doctor?  Maybe someone told you it was the answer they were given by a customer service hotline?  Perhaps it was something a friend at your weekly playgroup heard, or something you Googled in a post on an auto forum?  How many times was the information passed along and distorted?  Was it taken out of context?  Are there exceptions to it?  How do you know if it actually applies to your child, in your carseat, in your vehicle?

It’s pretty simple.  There are Rules, there are guidelines and there’s everything else:

  • Rules come in two forms.  1) State Law and 2) Your Owner’s Manuals, and not necessarily in that order depending on where you live!  These are the limits and instructions that MUST be followed if at all possible.  If you can find it in your state’s occupant protection laws or the manual that came with your car or carseat (or any published addendums or updates to these), then it’s a Rule and almost always applies to you.
  • Guidelines come from all sorts of reputable sources.  These include official printed brochures or online statements from organizations like the AAP, NHTSA, IIHSSafe Kids USA, the CPS Board, MACPS and various others.  These may also include sources such as classes given by Child Passenger Safety Technician Instructors, peer-reviewed and published articles from respected journals, presentations by manufacturer’s representatives or written correspondence from industry researchers or other experts.  Most such guidelines are excellent advice and often form the basis for safest practice recommendations.  Even so, they are still just guidelines and some may not even apply to you.  Follow them if you can determine that they apply to your situation, but if they are not included in your owner’s manuals or state laws, then they are not universal rules.
  • Then there’s everything else.  That starts with verbal conversations with customer service representatives at manufacturer toll-free help lines. While they may have the best intentions, the answers can vary over time, even from the same rep!  Websites like CarseatBlog* may fall into this category, especially when someone like me thinks they are smart enough to write an opinion on a debated topic!  Or you might find a snippet posted online by a well-meaning certified technician who speculated about a confusing issue.  Maybe a close relative who heard something from a TV news story and called to tell you about it?   Perhaps you heard it from a friend, who heard it from a friend who read it on a secret facebook group? From expert commentary to third hand speculation to just plain crazy.   Take all this hearsay with a grain of salt, because what you heard may be great advice, or maybe it just doesn’t apply to you…

How far is too far?

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I understand that we’re all passionate about safety. And at some point or another, most of us have had to deal with criticism from friends or family members who think we’ve taken this whole car safety thing too far and just gone right off the deep end. Usually, we just brush off these ignorant remarks because deep in our hearts we know that we’re right and obviously they just don’t get it. We’re aware of the fact that MVC’s are a leading cause of death to children in the U.S. and we’re all determined to protect our children to the best of our abilities. That’s our job as parents and caregivers and we all take that responsibility very seriously. I understand that, I really do – because I’m right there with ya.

But how are we to know if we’ve really gone too far? Certainly our safety-addicted friends at car-seat.org would never stage an intervention on our behalf. And our spouse would probably rather walk across hot coals than incur our wrath by suggesting that maybe, just maybe, we’re being a bit too extreme.

So, who’s gonna give it to ya straight and tell you when it’s time to chillax? Who’s going to remind you that you can’t save the world and completely eradicate all injuries to all children in MVCs – no matter how desperately you want to? Who’s gonna tell you when it’s time to step away from that vehicle in the Walmart parking lot because clearly you’re not dealing with an appreciative and open-mined victim?

I will.

However, the first step to getting help is to admit that you have a problem. Don’t think you have a problem? Get in line. And while you’re there – take our short survey:

1. Do you find yourself repeatedly trying to talk your sister-in-law into buying a Radian to rear-face your tiny 7-year-old niece who weighs 43 lbs?

2. When you go grocery shopping do you spend 20 minutes thinking about the most appropriate way to secure those projectiles for the ride home?

3.  Have you purchased more carseats for other people’s kids than you have for your own children?

4.  Have you ever considered gluing sheets of EPS foam to the rear windows of a vehicle that doesn’t have side curtain airbags?

5.  Do you lose sleep thinking about your neighbor’s child who is 5 years old and rides in a backless booster?

6.  Do you respond “ABSOLUTELY”, when someone posts an online poll asking whether you would put a small, immature 13-year-old back into a 5-point harness?

7.  Have you ever refused to ride the monorail at WDW because you considered it too risky?

8.  Do you have anxiety attacks when you see properly restrained forward-facing 2-year-olds?

9.  Do you always remember to secure your purse with an available safety belt?

10.  On Halloween, do you hand out copies of the 5-Step Test flyer instead of candy? (If you hand out the flyer WITH candy – that doesn’t count as a yes.)

If you answered yes to more than 1 question above – please do yourself a favor and go volunteer some of your time at carseat check events in the lowest, low-income inner-city area you can find within driving distance.  If you don’t have any impoverished inner-city areas within driving distance, then a rural, migrant farm worker community will suffice.  All kidding aside, these are the types of places where your knowledge, passion and dedication to Child Passenger Safety are desperately needed.  And seeing the frightening reality of how these children ride around every day will really help you to appreciate the beautiful sight of a properly restrained, albeit forward-facing, 2-year-old.  Everything in life is relative and a healthy perspective will keep you focused on the bigger picture – and help you avoid going off the deep end in the process.

Happy Memorial Day

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