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Summer temperatures peak, Children left unattended in cars at risk for serious illness and death

The Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services reminds parents and caregivers that with August temperatures reaching triple digits and changes in daily routines prompted by the start of the school year children are at an increased risk of heat-related illness and even death if left unattended in a car.

"Unfortunately, changes in routine such as bringing children to school or other school-related errands can lead to children being forgotten or left unattended in a car," said DCFS Secretary Ruth Johnson. "Temperatures inside a car can reach dangerous levels very quickly, and a child left in a car in these conditions is at serious risk of heat stroke, which can be deadly especially for small children."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that even with the windows of car opened two inches the interior temperature can rise 20 degrees in just 10 minutes. This means that on hot Louisiana days, the temperature inside a car put anyone left inside at risk for serious heat-related illnesses or even death. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children who are left unattended in parked cars are at greatest risk for heat stroke, and possibly death.

DCFS reports that 17 children in Louisiana have died from hyperthermia (heat stroke) as a result of being left in unattended vehicles between 1989 and 2010.

Earlier this summer a two-year-old boy died in Rapides Parish after trapped inside the trunk of the family car after he wandered away from a group of children who were playing outside. More recently, a mother in New Orleans was arrested after police found three children unattended in a car in the parking lot of a shopping mall; the children were sweating profusely and were treated on site by paramedics.

"Children should never be left in a car unattended for any amount of time; it is unsafe and illegal" said Johnson. "While heat stroke poses a very serious threat to children, it is not the only danger associated with leaving a child alone in car. Leaving the engine running or the windows down can prompt a child to accidentally shift the car into gear, get caught in a power window or even be abducted."

Louisiana is one of 14 states with laws against leaving children unattended in a vehicle. A first offense will net a fine of up to $500 or imprisonment of up to than 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.

If you see a child left unattended in a vehicle, contact local law enforcement or dial 911.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers the following safety tips:
  • Teach children not to play in, on or around vehicles.
  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even with the window slightly open or with the engine running and the air conditioning on.
  • Always lock an unattended vehicle's doors and trunk - especially at home. Keep keys and remote entry devices out of children's reach. If a child is missing, check the vehicle first, including the trunk.
  • Check to ensure all children leave the vehicle when you reach your destination. Don't overlook sleeping infants.
  • If you are bringing your child to daycare when it is not part of your normal routine, have your spouse 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.
  • If a child is 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. Cool the child rapidly. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.
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