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Summer increases danger of leaving children in cars

POSTED: June 17, 2013 12:54 a.m.

With summer officially starting on Friday, temperatures have already started to rise.

With warmer temperatures, however, comes more danger for children being left alone inside hot cars.

Safe Kids of Gainesville/Hall County, along with the Gainesville Police Department and Gainesville Fire Department, have been inspecting car seats for parents and children, but also educating the public on the dangers of a child being left alone in a hot car as part of their “Look Before You Lock” campaign.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” said Kim Martin, Safe Kids coalition coordinator. “Any child injury or fatality is horrendous. But it also (brings) a level of sadness. It’s very hard to notify a family of a (child’s) death.

“If a child is deceased, it’s too late for ‘What if?’ or ‘What could I have done?’”

Martin said there were no child deaths related to being left in a hot car last year, and said she hopes that continues to be the trend.

She also said it’s not just summertime heat that people should worry about, but also spring and fall. Ultimately though, she explained, it’s never a good thing to leave a child unattended in a car.

“It’s never OK to leave a child in the car alone,” she said. “(A child’s) core body temperature rises faster with the seat, cloth and car. ... It’s never a good idea, not for even five minutes. You never know what could happen.”

Most of the deaths are caused by heat stroke, or hyperthermia, Martin said. This occurs when the body isn’t able to cool itself fast enough, and the body’s temperature rises to dangerous levels, and according to the Safe Kids’ website, a child’s body temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult’s.

A child’s body temperature may reach 106 degrees within 10 to 15 minutes. Within 10 minutes, the inside temperature of a vehicle can be up to 20 degrees hotter than the outside temperature; after 30 minutes, a vehicle’s temperature can be up to 34 degrees hotter.

The website also said 50 percent of deaths occurred when a parent or caregiver said they had “forgotten their child;” 30 percent of deaths occurred when the child gained access to an unattended vehicle; and 17 percent occurred when a child was intentionally left.

Safe Kids suggests always locking your vehicles, including the trunk, when the vehicles are parked at home, so that your child may not get into the car.

According to Gainesville Police Department spokesman Cpl. Kevin Holbrook, patrols tend to pick up during the summertime, and a special unit from the department will scan the retail-store parking lots, as well as other areas, to make sure no child is left unattended inside a car.

“We do receive a number of calls if a person does see a child left in the car,” Holbrook said.

He also said the Gainesville community is very good at looking out for others’ children and taking care of their own to make sure that no child is left in a hot car.

He said the department will demonstrate at functions and events how fast a car can heat up, by placing a thermometer inside, and then allowing the parents to check the temperature every so often to understand that temperatures can rise very quickly.

“A vehicle can become dangerously hot in a matter of minutes,” he said.

He added that the age of the child can dictate how the department approaches and responds to the calls, and age also determines what, how many, or if any charges can be filed.

Holbrook also said that technology has changed a lot of things, and it plays a big part in how people can become lost in their own world, and not stay focused on the people around them.

“Across the nation, we live in a rush, hurry-and-go type of world, and you add that with technology, individuals have forgotten they have their child,” he said. “Don’t let the surrounding world (and technology) overtake you, and make you forget about your most precious cargo: your child.”

Holbrook added that anyone who knowingly leaves a car unattended, with a child in the back seat, should stop, and that it doesn’t matter if the car is running with air conditioning, or if a car sits not running, with the windows down. He said if a car is left running with a child in the back seat, then you have to worry about the possibility of someone stealing your car, or if the car malfunctions, then it presents new problems that could affect your child.

Another piece of advice he offered is for drivers to put their bags, purses, etc. in the back seat with their child, because that will ensure they look in the back seat to make sure they have everything they need before going into their destination.

Felicia Chambers, along with her 10-month old son Johnny Chambers, attended one of the Safe Kids’ seat-checking events on Saturday at Lakeshore Mall. Chambers said she’s “never been close” to leaving her son alone in a car.

“I just don’t think it’s right,” she said about leaving a child in a car by himself. “It’s crazy for someone to leave their kid in a car. ... And not just (leaving them in a hot car), but someone could jump in the car and take off, or if the child is older, they could knock the car out of gear.”

Beth Elrod, another parent who attended the seat-checking event, said her son, Drew Elrod, 2, is her “everything” and that’s why she’s never forgotten him in a car, or thought about leaving him unattended for even a second.

“No, it hasn’t happened to me because my son is my everything,” she said. “He’s my first priority when I’m getting out of the car. ... I couldn’t forget my son in my car. He’s part of me. This is my gift from God. I couldn’t do it. If anything ever happened to him, it would devastate me.”


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