July 31, 2013

Vehicles can be death traps for children left alone


---- — PLATTSBURGH — The temperature inside a car can rise 19 degrees in just 10 minutes when the engine is turned off and windows rolled up.

If a child is left inside,“the body isn’t able to cool itself quickly enough, and the body temperature rises to dangerous levels,” said Martha Passino, regional coordinator for the New York State Traffic Safety Committee and a pediatric nurse practitioner in Plattsburgh.

“Young children are particularly at risk, as their body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s.”


While the recent intense heat in the North Country has subsided somewhat, an automobile’s interior can still be deadly for a child left alone inside.

Since 1998, more than 550 children across the nation have died from heatstroke when left unattended in a vehicle, including 24 so far this year.

Safe Kids/New York, a coalition of public and private organizations working together to prevent childhood injuries and deaths, is promoting awareness of that danger.

“Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children,” Passino said.

“This year alone has the potential to be the worst year on record (for recorded auto-related heatstroke deaths).”


Among the recorded deaths over the past 15 years, 52 percent of the children were forgotten by their caregiver and left behind in the vehicle, 29 percent occurred when kids were playing in an unattended vehicle, and 18 percent were intentionally left in a vehicle by an adult who expected to be away for only a short while.

“A lot of times, people plan on going into a store for just a couple of minutes but end up spending more time (away) than they thought,” Passino said.

“Don’t leave a child unattended, even for a minute.”


Although it may seem unlikely for a parent or guardian to forget a child in the backseat, statistics show that is the most common experience.

During a recent conference that Passino attended, parents relayed on how their lives were dramatically and tragically changed after losing a child to vehicle-related heatstroke.

In one case, a mother typically brought the child to day care, but on this particular day, the father had that responsibility. After the child fell asleep in the safety seat in the back seat, he forgot and drove to work. 

The parents did not learn of the mistake until noontime, and, by then, the child had succumbed to heatstroke.

“When a normal pattern is broken, this kind of situation can happen,” Passino said.

Having a system where the day-care provider will contact a parent if a child does not arrive one morning and a parent hasn’t called to say the child is sick can help eliminate that potential for tragedy, she added.


Heatstroke deaths have been recorded in 11 months of the year in nearly all 50 states. There are also a staggering number of near misses, children who were rescued from a sealed car before a fatality. 

In Palm Beach County, Fla., for instance, more than 500 of these types of near misses were recorded in one year alone.

Safe Kids is promoting the acronym ACT in its efforts to reduce the potential for heatstroke tragedy: Avoid, Create reminders and Take action.

Locking the car when it’s parked in the driveway, never leaving children unattended and placing a briefcase or purse next to the child’s car seat are all steps people can take to protect their children from tragedy.

Anyone who sees a child left alone in a car should call 911 immediately. Emergency personnel are trained to respond to these situations, and that one call could save a life, Passino said.

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The Safe Kids Coalition is holding a free car-seat check and children's day at the Plattsburgh Farmers Market off Durkee Street in the City of Plattsburgh from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 10.