How to protect kids and animals from summer heat

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As summer blazes around the corner, so do the dangers of keeping a young kid or animal near or inside a hot car, which some underestimate at times.

Possible dangers — including hyperthermia, power window strangulations and low-speed, high-severity crush injuries — can occur when a child or animal is left alone in or around motor vehicles. The emerging public health issue can cause death and injury due to dangers of leaving children unattended.

KidsAndCars.org works to document the issue using education and public awareness to focus on the attention of the problems. It aims to pass state laws, propose federal policy change and work toward the redesign of motor vehicles to reduce causes of injury or death.

“It is very important to keep the dangers of hot cars top of mind throughout these critical summer months because we know that there are families out there that will lose their children,” said Amber Rollins, KidsAndCars.org director. “The worst thing any parent or caregiver can do is to think that unknowingly leaving a child in a hot car would never happen to them. This happens to wonderful, loving, responsible parents.”

On average, 37 U.S. children die in hot cars every year, which amounts to one in nine days, according to KidsAndCars.org. Eighty-seven percent of those kids who died from vehicular heat strokes are under the age of 3.

The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration states that it is against the law to leave a child or pet in an unintended motor vehicle. The MVA recommends contacting your local law enforcement if you feel a child is in danger due to being unattended in a motor vehicle.

If one sees a pet unattended, one is allowed to use reasonable force to remove the animal from the vehicle. This includes law enforcement officers, public safety employees and animal control officers.

As a result of KidsAndCars.org efforts, a provision in the 2005 omnibus transportation bill SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users) power window switches are now safer for children, effective Oct. 1, 2010.

KidsAndCars.org leadership also was responsible for the passage of the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act in February 2008, which is the only transportation bill passed in the United States since 2005.

“When a child suffers from heatstroke, they may become disoriented, confused and lethargic,” Rollins said. “At a body temperature of 104 degrees, the child will suffer heatstroke, their organs begin to shut down and brain damage can occur. When the body temperature reaches 107, it becomes fatal.

“A vehicle acts like a greenhouse and heats up very quickly.”

To prevent a dangerous situation, here are some tips to make sure children are never left in a car and cannot get into a parked car.

• Make it a routine to open the back door of your car every time you park to check that no one has been left behind.

• Put something in the back seat to remind you to open the back door every time you park, such as a cell phone, employee badge or handbag.

• Keep a stuffed animal in baby’s car seat. Place it on the front seat as a reminder when baby is in the back seat.

• Ask your babysitter or child care provider to call you if your child has not arrived on schedule.

• Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in the garage or parkway.

• Keys and remote openers should never be left within the reach of children.

• If a child goes missing, immediately check the trunk and inside of all vehicles in the area carefully.