FRANKFORT — With the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicting that most of the U.S. will face well above average temperatures this summer, Kentucky State Police is warning parents and caregivers about the fatal dangers posed by leaving children in hot cars.
“Heat stroke is the leading cause of non-crash related deaths for children ages 14 and younger,” says Sgt. Michael Webb, a spokesman for the agency. “Your car can become an oven very quickly, reaching temperatures of 125 degrees in minutes even with the windows cracked.”
“A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than that of an adult,” adds Webb, “and heat stroke can occur in temperatures as low as 57 degrees. On an 80-degree day, a car can reach deadly levels in just 10 minutes.”
A study by San Jose University reports that 24 children died from vehicle-related heat strokes in the U.S. last year. Seventeen have already died this year. Kentucky recorded its first victim in April.
In 2000, Kentucky passed “Bryan’s Law,” which makes a person liable for second-degree manslaughter or first-degree wanton endangerment for leaving a child younger than eight in a motor vehicle where circumstances pose a grave risk of death. The law was named after 11-month old Bryan Puckett, who died July 13, 1999 after being left in a hot car by his babysitter.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 661 child heat stroke deaths were reported from 1998 through 2015. Fifty-four percent of those occurred when a child was “forgotten” by a parent or caregiver; 29 percent occurred when a child was playing in an unattended vehicle; 17 percent occurred when a child was intentionally left in a vehicle by an adult and one percent occurred due to unknown circumstances.
“A majority of parents would like to believe that they could never ‘forget’ their child in a vehicle,” Webb says. “However, in these fast-paced times, it is easy for parents to get distracted and forget their child is in the car with them. The most dangerous mistake a parent can make is to think leaving a child alone in their car could never happen to them.”
Webb points out that some deaths are caused from curious children who are left unattended by a parent.
“Tragically, about 33 percent of children who die in hot cars entered the vehicle on their own while left unattended,” he says.
Webb offers the following safety tips:
• Never leave a child in an unattended car, even with the windows down.
• Be sure that all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don’t overlook sleeping babies.
• Always lock your car. If a child is missing, check the car first, including the trunk. Teach your children that vehicles are never to be used as a play area.
• Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat and when the child is put in the seat place the animal in the front with the driver as a reminder.
• Place your purse or briefcase in the back seat as a reminder that you have your child in the car.
• If you see children left in vehicles on hot days, call 911 if you think the occupant is in danger.
“Kids in hot cars are a deadly combination,” says Webb, “but these tragedies are preventable if you always “look before you leave.”