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Where’s Baby? The Dangers of Heatstroke

With Memorial Day approaching, the thoughts of many turn to family car trips and vacations. But when the weather warms, please also remember that leaving a child in a car is never safe and could lead to heatstroke. Too many Americans are not aware of this deadly problem, with potentially two million children being left alone in a car and put at risk.

When outside temperatures are in the low 80s the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes, even with a window rolled down two inches. Young children are particularly at risk because their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult's.

When a child's temperature reaches 107 degrees, that child dies. Last year alone, at least 43 children in America died after being left in unattended vehicles—and an unknown number of others were moderately or severely injured.

We clearly need to do more to spread the message about the dangers of heatstroke. According to a new study by Safe Kids Worldwide, 14 percent of parents stated they have left a child alone inside a parked vehicle despite the risk of heatstroke. That means that nearly two million parents transporting more than 3.3 million children may have intentionally left children in a parked vehicle and risked their lives.

To make Americans more aware of the dangers of heatstroke, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is again conducting our "Where's Baby? Look Before You Lock" campaign, which will be taking to the airwaves and the Internet on May 5 and running through September. This year, on July 31, we’ll also be conducting our second National Heatstroke Tweet Up Day to spread to word on Twitter.

When I began thinking about this year’s campaign, I immediately thought about reaching out to our friends at the National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions, their supporters, and the entire community that works to care for injured children. As leaders in protecting children, I know that you’ll do all you can to help us spread to word about heatstroke.

NHTSA and its safety partners urge parents and caregivers to take the following precautions to prevent heatstroke incidents from occurring:

  • 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 their reach.

Parents and caregivers are the first line of defense against the needless heatstroke tragedies but everyone has a role to play. NHTSA will be working with our safety partners and local communities to get the message out to never leave children unattended in a vehicle and always check the backseat before walking away. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911 immediately.

When the weather heats up it’s time for all of us to step up and prevent heatstroke. As a community, we can prevent these deaths and injuries, and parents should always remember: Look Before You Lock.

Thank you to David J. Friedman, Acting Administrator, NHTSA for submitting this blog post.


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