Local nurse stresses effort to prevent kids being left in hot cars
Around the country, an average of 38 children each year die after being left unattended in sweltering vehicles.
Jonni Tucker, public health nurse with the Marietta City Health Department, wants to make sure a local child doesn’t become part of those statistics.
“I want to get this out in the news before we have a near-miss or a death,” she said.
Tucker is emphasizing an initiative of Safe Kids Worldwide, a global organization whose goal is to protect children from unintentional injuries, which is the No. 1 cause of death for children in the United States. It urges people to avoid heat deaths in cars by remembering the acronym A.C.T., which stands for “Avoid, Create Reminders, Take Action.”
The inside temperature of a car can rise quickly, nearly 20 degrees in the first 10 minutes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The weather doesn’t have to be unusually warm, as sunlight streaming into a vehicle could cause the internal temperature to reach 110 degrees on a day when the weather outside is in the 60s.
Couple that with the fact that a child’s body heats three to five times faster than an adult’s, according to Safe Kids Worldwide, and a child left in a vehicle could be facing heatstroke and even death sooner than one might expect. Leaving a window cracked won’t help.
When the body’s temperature reaches 104 degrees, organs start to shut down, Safe Kids warns. At 107 degrees, the child can die.
At least 15 children in the United States have already died in 2013 as a result of being left in hot cars, according to KidsAndCars.org, a group that aims to protect children from potential dangers of automobiles beyond accidents. Three deaths were reported by The Associated Press in June.
To “avoid” potential heatstroke, Safe Kids warns people to never, under any circumstances, leave a child in a car. In addition, people need to remember to lock their cars at home to avoid the risk of a youngster climbing inside on a hot day.
“Then it doesn’t take long for them to get overheated and not be able to figure a way to get out,” Tucker said.
Even if people know not to leave a child in a car, on numerous occasions, caregivers and parents have actually forgotten.
A Waterford-area native was thrust into the national spotlight six years ago when she inadvertently left her 2-year-old daughter asleep in her carseat while she went in to work for about eight hours at the southwest Ohio middle school where she was principal. Temperatures climbed toward 100 degrees, and the girl died.
Last year, a 4-year-old girl died in Parkersburg after being left in a hot car for about seven hours outside her day care.
To avoid these situations, Safe Kids advises people to “create reminders,” like placing a purse, briefcase, cell phone or other item they’ll need once they get wherever they’re going beside their child’s seat. This can be especially useful when a routine is changed.
“Nobody thinks that they’re going to forget their child in the morning,” Tucker said.
Finally, if someone sees a child in a potentially dangerous situation like this, Safe Kids – and local law enforcement – urge them to “take action.”
“They should immediately call the police department so we can get there and make sure the child’s OK,” Marietta Police Capt. Jeff Waite said.
In most cases, an officer can be there quickly and a person should not try to get into the car on their own, he said.
But if the child appears to be in distress, there may not be time to wait, said Washington County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Mark Warden, even if that means breaking the car window.
“I truly believe that if they feel it’s a life-or-death situation, then they can act and maybe save a child’s life,” he said.
Waite, Warden and Sgt. Michael S. Seabolt with the Marietta post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol said they were not aware of any recent incidents involving children trapped in hot cars.
Some states have laws specifically prohibiting leaving children alone in a car, but Ohio is not among them. Warden said such a situation would fall under the category of child endangerment, and could rise to a felony if the child dies.