Preventing Accidents Involving Children Left in Cars
When your children are happily playing or acting rambunctious, you may find it unbelievable that you would ever forget them in the car. But parents or caregivers leave children in cars all too frequently. During one recent year, 53 children died because they were left in hot cars, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). That year was the worst year for such deaths recorded over the past two decades, averaging between four and five children every month.
Children dying in hot cars happens every year. Between 1998 and 2018, over 800 children suffered vehicular heatstroke and died as a result. Heatstroke can also cause seizures, dizziness, and other serious symptoms. Children who do not die as a result of the heatstroke still run the risk of experiencing severe injury if they’re left in the car.
Heat is deadly to children; even a moderate outside temperature like 75 degrees can cause a car to become very hot, causing heatstroke and death. In other words, in Florida’s sunny and often hot climate, the risk to a child left in a car is all too real. Even if the day seems overcast and mild, Florida’s sun can beat down on where the child is sitting.
Because leaving children in hot cars is so dangerous, we need to prevent it. Let’s review why it happens, the effect on children, the law, and prevention methods, such as apps or gadgets that ensure you don’t leave your child in the car brought to you by the personal injury attorneys at Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA Accident Injury Attorneys, PA.
Why Are Children Left in Cars?
The NSC points out that children are left in cars for three basic reasons.
Adult drivers forget nearly 54 percent of victims. How could that happen? Several reasons. If kids are awake and active, parents aren’t likely to forget them—their sounds are a reminder. But a parent or other caregiver may forget a sleeping or quiet child.
- First, some parents or other caregivers forget a child due to work stress or pressure. Twenty-four percent of hot car deaths in children occur in office parking lots while the caregiver was at work in the office. A parent or caregiver may have meant to drop the child off at daycare or a sitter’s house, and simply became preoccupied with work or other concerns and forgot.
- Second, caregivers may forget if having the child is a break from routine. We generally remember our familiar daily routines. If a parent or caregiver is providing unaccustomed care, it may slip their minds.
- Third, the parents or caregiver may not receive any aural reminder from a sleeping or very quiet child. Child car seats are in the back seat, often directly behind the driver. That means the caregiver may receive no visual reminder that the child is there, either, if the parent or caregiver doesn’t remember to glance in the back seat.
More than 26 percent of children killed by vehicular heatstroke gained access to the car on their own. They weren’t forgotten, but could get inside in dangerous conditions. They may have entered an unlocked car or opened a locked car through an open window.
Finally, more than 18 percent of children killed in hot cars were intentionally left. Tragically, many parents do not realize the dangers hot cars pose to children and how quickly conditions can turn dangerous. Health officials estimate that car temperatures can rise very rapidly, and much of the climb occurs in the first 30 minutes.
Caregivers may also believe that if they leave the air conditioning on, the car is safe. It isn’t. First, no vehicle unattended by an adult should be left running, ever. This poses other dangers to any occupant, including carbon monoxide poisoning and unintended activation, such as rolling down a hill. Second, air conditioning may not make its way to children in the back seat fully, as the vents are usually in the front.
Open windows don’t appreciably cool a car in Florida’s climate, either, so leaving a window open is also not a safeguard. In fact, at some temperatures, it may make the car heat up faster.
Parents or other caregivers may believe they are just leaving the child for a short period of time, such as 10 minutes, to run an errand or drop something off. They shouldn’t.
- First, no one can accurately gauge how long an errand or drop off will take them. If you are just running into a convenience store to buy a quart of milk, you have no real control over how long it will take you. What if there’s a line at check-out? What if the only clerk is on the phone or restocking the aisles?
- Second, temperatures can rise to dangerous levels for young children in just a few minutes. Don’t underestimate the damage that can happen in a short period of time.
News headlines are all too full of parents or caregivers who left children in the car, either unintentionally or intentionally. It’s a tragedy for everyone concerned. It’s not safe. Even for a minute.
Why Is Leaving Children in Cars so Dangerous?
Part of the danger posed to children in hot cars concerns the nature of kids’ bodies. Their bodies generate more heat than adult bodies do. All human beings cool off via sweat glands, as well, and children’s abilities to cool via sweat is not as developed as it is in adults.
The rapid increase in car temperature plays a large role as well. If the temperature outside is 72 degrees—a mild Florida day—an hour can drive the temperature inside the car up by 30 to 40 degrees. Experts estimate that 70 percent of the climb in temperature occurs during the first half-hour.
Once a child’s body temperature goes over 104 degrees, they may suffer heatstroke. Heatstroke in young children can be deadly.
It also causes significant symptoms, such as agitation, dizziness, confusion, disorientation, seizures, and loss of consciousness. Even a child old enough to summon help (such as tapping on windows) may not have the ability to do so because of the symptoms they’re experiencing. Children, of course, won’t usually know what’s happening to them if they become dizzy or confused in a hot car.
Even children that manage to evade deadly heatstroke after being left in a car will have to cope with potential complications caused by the experience. It is no secret that children are especially vulnerable to injury and when it comes to heatstroke children can suffer worse effects that many adults. In fact, some children that may be left in vehicles can have pre-existing conditions that can be made much worse because of heatstroke. After suffering heatstroke a child can be very susceptible to further injury and health issues like organ damage.
Is It Against the Law to Leave a Child in a Car?
If a child under six years old is left in a car for more than 15 minutes, it is a misdemeanor under Florida law. If the child suffers significant bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement, the charge becomes a felony.
It is also against the law to leave a child if the car’s motor is running, leaving the child endangers their health, or the child “appears to be in distress.”
No specific state law exists for children six or older.
If a child younger than six is in a car, police officers can legally remove them, by any reasonable means necessary, and leave a notification for the driver.
It is not against the law to leave a child younger than six in the car if the caregiver can see the child at all times (such as pumping gas or going to pay at a gas station).
Some law enforcement officials may pursue charges of child abuse or neglect. A woman was charged with neglect several years ago for leaving a one-year-old in the car with the air conditioning running—ironically, as she went to pay a court fine.
What Can I Do to Ensure My Children Are Safe in the Car?
Parents and caregivers need to ensure their children’s safety in the car.
- First, never leave your child in the car for any reason.
- Second, lock doors and trucks so no child can get in the car unattended. Don’t leave windows open—a child might gain access even through a window rolled down partially. Make sure you know where your keys are, too—children can use them to get inside a car.
- Third, if you see a young child unattended in a car with no visible adult in sight, notify law enforcement.
- Fourth, educate yourself about the dangers of leaving children in cars. The more aware you are, the more likely you are to remember your children. The NSC offers a safety course on the subject to increase awareness. Participants receive a certificate of completion.
How to Remind Yourself
Parents and caregivers can use some low-tech hacks to remind themselves when children are in the car, so they don’t forget.
- First, place something you need by the child. If you carry a briefcase or files to work, for example, place them by the car seat. When you open the rear door, you’ll see the child.
- Second, place something of the child’s next to you. A diaper bag or toy carrier will remind you that the child is on board.
- Third, check where your child is supposed to be early in the morning. If your child attends daycare or school, phone to make sure they’ve arrived. If they haven’t, are they still in the car?
While these methods can work, they are clearly subject to some risk. If you’re stressed or preoccupied, the reminders may not work, or you may not call the planned arrival location in time.
Apps and Gadgets to Make Sure You’ll Never Forget
Fortunately, an increasing number of apps and gadgets can make sure an adult in the car never forgets a child. Caregivers must set up alerts and remember to check them to make sure the app works.
If you or a caregiver don’t have or frequently use a smartphone, a car alarm is the safer choice. Many of the alarms, however, are designed to work in tandem with smartphones, to send back-up alerts to you and other people.
Below is a list of a few top-rated products.
- The Elpho EClip is a baby alarm designed to attach to a car seat or seat belt. It will connect either to your smartphone or a key device, and send you alerts about proximity and temperature. If you exit the car and travel more than 15 feet, the alarm activates. If you somehow don’t hear the alarm, the device will text someone you indicate upon setup, such as a spouse or relative.
- Cybex Eternis S Convertible Car Seat with SensorSafe is a convertible car seat that alerts you when your child is left in the car or in the chest clip is unbuckled while the car is moving (as some children might do). It can connect to your smartphone and send alerts about car temperature or a child seated too long. The car seat accommodates kids up to 65 pounds.
- CarLock Advanced Real Time 3G Car Tracker & Alert System is a car alarm originally designed to deter thieves. But because it can send alerts if it feels any unusual vibrations, it can alert you if a child is crying or moving. Data is updated every 30 seconds.
- Bee-Safe Child Auto Alarm is an auto alarm that will send alerts to check for a child left in the vehicle and also has a feature that will alert drivers to check behind the car before taking off.
- Cars4Kids Safety App is a smartphone app that sounds an alarm if you walk away from the car with your phone. It alerts you that the child is still in the car.
- Waze is one of the best known apps for car drivers, able to plot routes with the least traffic or the most scenic vistas. But it also contains a lesser known child reminder feature. It is activated through settings. You can also customize it with a note about your child.
- Backseat is an app that reminds you to check the backseat! You can also program it with alerts to other contacts, which will send emails and texts that a child may have been left and, importantly, give the car’s location.
While many car apps require Bluetooth, Backseat doesn’t—it works via GPS. Backseat is a valuable alternative for those people who lack a Bluetooth-enabled car or device.
Children left in hot cars is a nationwide problem, but the potential is particularly dangerous in Florida because of our climate. Please take care to ensure that you keep the children in your car safe, and take the time to report any instances where you see people who do not.
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