A cautionary tale for harried parents: Check the back seat

    Consumer Reports News: June 10, 2009 05:30 PM

    It's not yet the height of summer, but high temperatures have killed two children in the past several days. Not outside temperatures though. The heat and the children were inside closed cars.

    Yesterday, newspapers in the Bay Area reported  that a four-month-old boy died when his father forgot to drop him at daycare and instead left him in the car all day while he was at work. Although the outside temperature was only in the 60s, reports say the air in the car would likely have topped 100 degrees.

    A day before, a three-year-old in Warwick, RI was found dead in a car parked in front of the family's house. His mother called the police when he was discovered missing, according to the Providence Journal.  Police believe he climbed into the car on his own.

    These are heartbreaking updates to data tracked by the department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University, which lists six hyperthermia deaths of children in vehicles so far in 2009.

    And in a sadly timed coincidence,  this week the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released "Not-in-traffic surveillance 2007—Children"  Janette Fennell, of the safety group Kids and Cars, noted the importance of the report, but says "their data seriously under counts the actual number of children who die in this manner." Kids and Cars data, she says, "confirms an average of 37 hyperthermia fatalities per year; not the 27 estimated by the agency."  

    NHTSA also offered some safety tips to prevent hyperthermia including:

    • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle.
    • Do not let your children play in an unattended vehicle.
    • Never leave infants or children in a parked vehicle, even if the windows are partially open or with the engine running and the air conditioning on.
    • Make a habit of looking in the vehicle—front and back—before locking the door and walking away.
    • If you are bringing your child to daycare, and normally it's your spouse or partner who brings him, have that person 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.

    • Always lock vehicle doors and trunks and keep keys out of children's reach. If a child is missing, check the vehicle first, including the trunk.
    • If you see a child alone in a hot vehicle, call the police. If they are 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.

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