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DCFS Reminds Parents of the Dangers of Leaving Children Unattended in Vehicles

Children at risk for serious illness, permanent injury, even death

BATON ROUGE -- As the school year begins and routines change, the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services reminds parents and caregivers that children are at increased risk of serious heat-related illness, permanent brain damage, blindness, kidney failure and even death if left unattended in a car.

"It is especially important for parents and caregivers to remember that children should never be left unattended in a car for any period of time," said DCFS Secretary Ruth Johnson. "As we experience record highs, the temperature inside a car can reach dangerous levels very quickly, and a child left in a car under these conditions is at serious risk of heat stroke, which can be deadly or result in permanent injury."

This year alone, DCFS has investigated cases involving seven children. These cases resulted in two deaths and five children with serious or permanent injuries, including permanent brain damage, blindness, kidney failure and second degree burns.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the interior temperature in a car can rise 20 degrees in just 10 minutes even with the windows opened up to two inches. For example, recent high temperatures in Louisiana have reached up to106 degrees Fahrenheit in some areas. After just ten minutes at this temperature, the interior of a car would be 126 degrees Fahrenheit, which is enough to put anyone left inside, especially a child, at risk.

DCFS reports that in cases investigated as abuse or neglect, 19 children in Louisiana have died from hyperthermia (heat stroke) as a result of being left in unattended vehicles between 1989 and 2011.

"Leaving a child in an unattended car is unsafe and illegal," said Johnson. "Louisiana is one of 14 states with laws against leaving children unattended in a vehicle."

Louisiana law mandates a fine of up to $500 or imprisonment of up to six months, or both for a first offense. 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.

According to Johnson, hyperthermia is not the only danger associated with leaving a child alone in a car. Leaving the engine running or the windows down can prompt a child to accidentally shift the car into gear, get caught in a power window or even be abducted.

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

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 conditioner 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 school or daycare when it is not part of your normal routine, have your spouse or someone else 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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