YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – It’s a parent’s worst nightmare – accidentally leaving a child in the car while they go to work or the store. It’s something that we hear about a lot in the warmer months, but it can still be an issue this time of year.
Since 1998, more than 700 kids in the United States have died in vehicles from heatstroke. Although this is something we don’t hear about as much in the winter, exposure like that can still be an issue in any season.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), heatstroke can be caused by outside temperatures as low as 60 degrees. Bitter cold is also a factor.
The NHTSA launched “Where’s baby? Look before you lock” public education campaign a few years ago to raise awareness about the problem and give parents practical guidelines to avoid a tragedy.
Experts say leaving a child behind in a vehicle can happen to anyone, especially during the holiday season. Stress, change in routines, or general preoccupation have been cited as causes of children being left in cars.
Our subconscious guides us into repetition or a habit. Something we’re familiar with such as a morning commute becomes so routine that we take it for granted. Any change in that routine makes us vulnerable, such as a dad who has to drop the baby off at daycare when he doesn’t usually do it.
“He might miss that turn to the daycare or to the babysitter and end going to work that day,” Dr. Tricia Bailey, clinical psychologist.
Linda Mehl is a registered nurse. She knows firsthand what Dr. Bailey is talking about because it happened to her.
“I went right past the school and got onto the highway. All of a sudden I looked back and there he was,” Mehl said.
The NHTSA says deaths from accidentally leaving a child in a car are 100 percent preventable. Experts suggest leaving something that you need in the back seat so that you have to go back there before you head off to the grocery store – something like a shoe.
“Actually, as corny as it sounds it is really a good idea because you aren’t going to get in and out to work or go shopping without your shoe,” Bailey said.
A cell phone would also work as a great reminder. It’s also important to lock your car immediately after parking it, that way a child doesn’t climb in and lock themselves in.
More safety tips from the National Highway Safety Administration include:
- Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle – even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on;
- Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away;
- Ask the childcare provider to call if the child doesn’t show up for care as expected;
- Do things that serve as a reminder that a child is in the vehicle, such as placing a purse or briefcase in the back seat to ensure no child is accidentally left in the vehicle, or writing a note or using a stuffed animal placed in the driver’s view to indicate a child is in the car seat; and
- Teach children that a vehicle is not a play area and store keys out of a child’s reach.