TOWSON, Md. — A recent survey by Public Opinion Strategies of Washington showing that parents are willing to leave children unattended in vehicles is cause for alarm for safety advocates, says AAA Mid-Atlantic. The results are especially concerning as temperatures are beginning to warm up and as parents are prepare for Memorial Day trips.
The study revealed that 14 percent of parents surveyed have intentionally left their children under kindergarten age alone in a vehicle, while 23 percent of parents with children age three and under have deliberately left their child alone in a vehicle.
“There are numerous disastrous results that can arise from leaving a child unattended in a vehicle, including death from heatstroke, accidental injury if the vehicle shifts into gear and the risk of child abduction,” said Ragina Cooper-Averella, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Young children are especially susceptible to injury because they cannot escape a vehicle on their own.”
The risk of serious injury or death during hot weather is heightened for children left alone in vehicles, according to research by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The internal temperature in vehicles can rapidly ascend to 200 degrees. Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash vehicle deaths for children under the age of 14, representing 61 percent of non-crash related fatalities in this age group.
Since 1998, there have been at least 606 heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, according to San Francisco State University’s Department of Geosciences. The same research states that on average, 38 children die each year, or one approximately every 9 days. In 2013, 44 children died of heatstroke. Four children have died through May 15, 2014. The university’s department review of media reports shows that 95 percent of the children who died of heatstroke from 1998-2013 were five years old or younger.
AAA Mid-Atlantic and NHTSA offer the following safety tips:
*Never leave a child alone in a car— even with the windows partially opened— as a vehicle’s interior can still heat up quickly to deadly temperatures.
*Do not leave your children alone in a running vehicle with the air conditioner on even for a few minutes; your child may put the car into drive or even get caught in a closing power window, not to mention that you increase the risk of your car being stolen and your child abducted.
*Make a habit of looking in the vehicle— front and back— before locking the door and walking away. Children have died because they fell asleep in their car seats and their parents didn’t realize they were still in the car.
*If your spouse or a guardian is taking your children to daycare or school ask them to call you to make sure the drop-off went according to plan.
*Do things to remind you that a child is in the vehicle:
Place your purse, briefcase or something else you need in the back seat where your child is seated so that you will have to check that area when you leave the vehicle.
Leave a written note in your vehicle where you will see it as you leave the vehicle, such as on the dashboard area.
Keep an object in your child’s car seat, such as a stuffed toy. When the child is buckled in, place the object where the driver will notice it when leaving the vehicle, as a reminder that a child is in the back seat.
*Do not let your children play in an unattended vehicle— teach them that a car is not a play area. Always lock your car doors and keep car keys out of children’s reach.
NHTSA offers additional tips on keeping children safe at safercar.gov