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home : people : opinions April 18, 2015

6/27/2013 7:29:00 PM
Never leave children in parked cars
By Trisha Gedon

Most Oklahomans have been enjoying the milder-than-normal temperatures for this time of year. However, even when the temperature is not in the triple-digit range, keep in mind the dangers of leaving children in parked cars.

At least eight children across the country have lost their lives already this year due to being left by caregivers or trapped in hot cars.

Laura Hubbs-Tait, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension parenting specialist, said children should never be left in cars, even for a short amount of time.

"Unattended children can release a parking brake and harm themselves or others," Hubbs-Tait said. "In addition, children left in parked cars may die from hyperthermia (overheating) at any time of the year because of the rapid increase in interior temperature in closed cars. Oklahoma laws prohibit child negligence, abuse and endangerment. It's imperative to understand a young child's body heats up far faster than an adult's. In addition, children do not handle heat as well."

Gina Peek, OSU Cooperative Extension housing and consumer specialist, said in the summer's heat, children left in cars are even more at risk for serious, rapid harm.

"Even when the windows are rolled down, the temperature inside a car can rapidly increase because dark dashboards and other interior features of the car quickly reach very high temperatures," Peek said. "When the outside temperature is 80 degrees, the inside of a vehicle can reach deadly temperatures of 125 degrees within an hour. If it's 93 degrees outside, the internal car temperature can jump to 125 degrees in just a matter of minutes."

Hubbs-Tait pointed out it can take as little as 15 minutes in an overheated car for a child to suffer life-threatening injuries. "It can be easy to get distracted and forget a child is in the car," Hubbs-Tait said. "However, distraction can result in health risks and even the death of a child. When you get home from work or from running errands, check to make sure all of the children are out of the car. Under no circumstances should you ever leave a sleeping child in the car. Always get the children out of the vehicle first - before unloading groceries or other items."

Other safety tips include:

• Teach children not to play in or around cars.

• Always lock car doors and trunks, even at home, and keep keys and remote entry devices out of children's reach.

• Watch children closely around cars, particularly when you are loading and unloading.

• Beware of child-resistant locks. Teach older children how to disable the driver's door locks if they unintentionally become entrapped in a vehicle.

• Check to make sure all children leave the vehicle when you reach your destination.

• Do not overlook sleeping infants or toddlers.

• Put a note, sign or object near the driver's seat as a reminder or place something you will need at your next stop - for example a purse, your lunch, gym bag or briefcase - on the floor of the backseat where the child is sitting. This simple act could help prevent you from accidentally forgetting a child. Remember the slogan "Look Before You Lock," which urges everyone to open the back door of the car and check inside before walking away.

• Be especially careful if you are dropping off infants or children at day care when that is not part of your normal routine. Have your child care provider contact you if your child does not show up on a day he or she is expected.

• Make sure to check the temperature of the car seat surface and safety belt buckles before restraining children in the car. Like the dashboard of your car, these can easily cause skin burns. Use a light covering to shade the seat of a parked car.

"If a child is accidentally left in a hot car, call 911 for help immediately," Peek said.

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