By Andrew Roszak

During the week of July 12, a needless tragedy claimed the life of a child in the Nashville-area. After being left alone in a car, a 3-year-old Smyrna boy died of heatstroke. His father was subsequently arrested for aggravated child abuse and neglect. Sadly, this marks the 20th child to die in a hot car in 2019. Nationwide, more than 900 children have died in hot cars since 1990.

It is time to do something.

This loss of life is not only devastating, but also totally preventable. As we approach the peak of summer, parents and caregivers need to be sure they are aware of these tragedies and understand the simple steps they can take to prevent them from occurring.

On average each year, 38 children needlessly die from heatstroke as a result of being trapped in hot cars. 2018 was the worst year in history for child hot car deaths with a total of 52 children dying nationwide. Nearly 90% of these fatalities occur in children under the age of 3. Temperatures inside vehicles can climb to over 125 degrees in a matter of minutes—and cracking the windows simply does not help. These deaths are preventable and by incorporating a few simple steps we can avoid these tragedies:

  • Look Before You Lock: Make a habit of opening the back door and checking the back seat every time you leave your vehicle, even if you believe your spouse has your child.
  • Place an item you cannot start your day without (computer, cell phone, employee badge, etc.) on the floorboard in front of your child’s car seat. This helps to form a habit so you will automatically open the back car door and check the back seat every time you arrive at your destination.
  • Make sure child care providers call you if your child does not show up as scheduled.
  • Never leave a child alone in a car, not even for a minute.
  • Clearly communicate who is getting each child out of the vehicle when more than one adult is present and always do a headcount of children.
  • Keep cars locked and keys out of reach of children at all times to prevent children from getting in a vehicle on their own.

Please share these tips with others—including friends, family, and new parents. Knowledge is power and these tips may end up saving a life.

I strongly feel that it is our duty to protect children. I am grateful for the jurisdictions that have passed legislation that provides protection to those that take action by breaking car windows, to save the lives of children (and pets) trapped in hot vehicles. If you find yourself in a situation where you witness a child or pet inside a hot car, call 911 immediately and have the emergency dispatcher walk you through the steps you should take.

Andrew Roszak serves as the Executive Director for the Institute for Childhood Preparedness (www.childhoodpreparedness.org). His daily focus is on protecting children by ensuring early childhood organizations have the skills, knowledge and resources to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies and natural disasters. The Institute for Childhood Preparedness is proud to partner with KidsandCars.org to increase awareness of this important issue. You can find free fact sheets, safety tips, graphics and images at kidsandcars.org.

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