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Summer Safety Concern: Children Left Unattended in Cars at Risk for Injury, Death

With recent temperatures reaching into the 90's and a heat index above 100 degrees, the Louisiana Department of Children & Family Services reminds parents and caregivers that leaving children unattended in a car can be deadly.

Between 1989 and 2010, DSS reports that 16 children in Louisiana have died from hyperthermia (heat stroke) as a result of being left in unattended vehicles.

"Heat stroke can be deadly, especially for small children. Because of the risk, children should never be left in a car unattended for any amount of time," said DSS Secretary Kristy Nichols. "The temperature inside a car rises at an alarming rate and can reach dangerous levels very quickly, even on cooler days and especially during the summertime"

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that even with the windows of car opened two inches the interior temperature can rise 20 degrees in just 10 minutes. This means that on hot Louisiana days, the temperature inside a car put anyone left inside at risk for serious heat-related illnesses or even death. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children who are left unattended in parked cars are at greatest risk for heat stroke, and possibly death.

"Children should not be left unattended in a car for any reason because it is unsafe and is against the law," said Nichols. "Heat stroke is not the only risk facing unattended children in a car. Leaving the engine on or the windows down creates other hazards. Children can accidentally shift the car into gear, get caught in a power window, or even be abducted."

Louisiana is one of 14 states with laws against leaving children unattended in a vehicle. A first offense will net a fine of up to $500 or imprisonment of up to than six months, or both. For subsequent offenses, the fine ranges between $1,000 and $5,000 with jail time of not less than one year or more than two years, or both.

If you see a child left unattended in a vehicle, contact local law enforcement or dial 911.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers the following safety tips:

  • Teach children not to play in, on or around vehicles.
  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even with the window slightly open or with the engine running and the air conditioning on.
  • Always lock an unattended vehicle's doors and trunk - especially at home. Keep keys and remote entry devices out of children's reach. If a child is missing, check the vehicle first, including the trunk.
  • Check to ensure all children leave the vehicle when you reach your destination. Don't overlook sleeping infants.
  • If you are bringing your child to daycare when it is not part of your normal routine, have your spouse call you to make sure everything went according to plan.
  • Ask your childcare provider to call you if your child does not show up for childcare.
  • Do things to remind yourself that a child is in the vehicle, such as:
    • Writing yourself a note and putting the note where you will see it when you leave the vehicle;
    • Placing your purse, briefcase or something else you need in the back seat so that you will have to check the back seat when you leave the vehicle; or
    • Keeping an object in the car seat, such as a stuffed toy. When the child is buckled in, place the object where the driver will notice it when he or she is leaving the vehicle.
  • If a child is in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible. Warning signs may include: red, hot, and moist or dry skin, no sweating, a strong rapid pulse or a slow weak pulse, nausea or acting strangely. Cool the child rapidly. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
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