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Children Left Unattended in Vehicles Risk Heatstroke, Brain Damage and Death

Twenty-six heat-related deaths investigated since 2000

BATON ROUGE - With record breaking summer temperatures, the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) reminds parents and caregivers that children are at an increased risk of hyperthermia, heat stroke and even death if left unattended in a vehicle.

"A child should never be left in a vehicle alone, even for just a few minutes. Summer heat in Louisiana can quickly raise the temperature inside our cars well above what anyone can tolerate," said DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier. "Always make a habit of checking the back seat before getting out of the vehicle. Taking extra precaution could prevent a tragic accident."

Since 2000, DCFS has investigated the deaths of 26* children as a result of being left in an unattended vehicle or climbing into a vehicle and becoming trapped. Eight of these deaths were children under the age of one.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that a child's body temperature can rise five times faster than that of an adult and a car's interior temperature can increase 10 degrees in just 10 minutes, even with the windows cracked two inches.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers the following safety tips:
  • Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle, even if the windows are partially open and you plan to return quickly.
  • If someone other than yourself is dropping your child off for the day, call the childcare provider to make sure the drop went according to plan. Or, if you have a smartphone, use an application like Find My Friends, which will alert you when they arrive at specified locations, such as the child care center. If you do not receive an alert, immediately call the person who was dropping the child off that day.
  • Ask your child care provider to call you if your child does not show up by a certain time each day.
  • Make a habit of looking in the vehicle - front and back - before locking the door and walking away.
  • 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.
Prevent children from getting trapped in unattended vehicles by teaching them that a car is not a play area and by keeping doors and trunks locked at all times. If a child is missing, check vehicles first, including trunks.

If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Warning signs of hyperthermia include red, hot and moist or dry skin, no sweating, a strong rapid pulse, a slow weak pulse, nausea or acting strangely.

Louisiana is only one of 19 states with laws against leaving children unattended in a vehicle. A first offense will net a fine of up to $500 or imprisonment up to 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.

*As of June 30, 2015

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