Leaving kids in cars can be fatal during hot summer months
By Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org July 29, 2012 4:58PM
Kristina Sides of Merrillville talks to her 6-month-old son, Liam, as she takes him out of his car seat to go on a shopping trip in the Hobart, Ind. area Friday July 20, 2012. | Stephanie Dowell~Sun-Times Media
The website KidsandCars.org says parents can take several precautions to make sure a combination of habit, stress and a sleeping child don’t make the parent forget a child in a car during the hot summer months. These tips include:
Put something you need, such as a purse or cell phone, in the back seat when a child is in the car.
Open the back door to check for a child every time you leave the vehicle, no matter what, to make it a habit.
Keep a large stuffed animal in the car seat when it’s not in use. When you put a child in the seat, move the stuffed animal to the front seat as a visual reminder.
Have your daycare provider call you if you do not drop off your child as scheduled.
For people who see a child left unattended in a car, get involved and call for help if they seem hot or sick.
Updated: July 29, 2012 6:06PM
Not leaving a child in a car during the hot summer months might seem like a no-brainer for most people.
But recent incidents across the state show that not everyone realizes that, and one child has already died this month because of it.
Earlier in July, two children in separate incidents in the Indianapolis area were left in cars. One of the children died, and the other had to go to the hospital.
Locally, a Chicago woman was arrested at the end of June for leaving her children in her vehicle while she gambled at the Majestic Star Casino in Gary. The children were in the vehicle during the night, so that they did not suffer the most severe effects of heat, but Dr. Nancy Albright, of Kids First Pediatrics on U.S. 30 in Dyer, said that’s not always the case.
“People don’t really think about their cars this way,” she said. “It really is a greenhouse effect.”
The glass of car windows can quickly raise the heat in a sitting car by 20 to 30 degrees in as little as 20 minutes, she said. For example, if the weather outside is 70 to 80 degrees, a car interior can actually reach 100 degrees.
Those high temperatures are especially dangerous to little children, who can generate heat faster than adults, Albright said.
“They can’t handle the extreme temperatures so basically they get heat stroke,” she said. “The body overheats and things start shutting down.”
Some parents might say they’re leaving their children for just a minute, she said, but it’s often longer than that, she said.
Not everyone leaves their children in a car on purpose, however. In fact, according to the website KidsandCars.org, which tracks vehicle-related child fatalities, just 12 percent of children who die this way were left in the car by an adult on purpose, whereas about 54 percent of the children were accidentally left in the car. A University of South Florida psychology professor, David Diamond, has even given a name for when this happens: forgotten baby syndrome.
According to a release from KidsandCars.org, this happens when habit takes over a person’s memory of plans he’s made, such as when making a stop at day care is not part of a normal routine. Stress factors, such as not getting enough sleep, can also play a role.
KidsandCars.org said parents should not assume they would never forget their children. It notes that the recommendation to have a baby’s car seat facing the rear of the car has increased the number of fatalities because a child will fall asleep and the parent cannot easily see him.
‘I always say no’
Merrillville mother Kristina Sides said she can’t imagine that people would leave their children in the car, whether on purpose or not.
“That’s horrible,” she said as she unbuckled her own son, Liam, from her vehicle.
Sides said she’s constantly talking and singing to her son and looking at him in her rear-view mirror.
“I’ve always been like that,” she said.
Kara Thornberry, of Portage, said she never lets her children stay in the car, even when her 8-year-old son, Caleb, asks to.
“I always say no,” Thornberry said.
She said she stayed in more when her 2-year-old daughter, Olivia, was younger, and now that she’s older, she’s always making noise.
Although the majority of cases might have happened by accident, a case can become a criminal matter if police decide there was neglect. Kathleen Walker, the Chicago woman who left her kids in the car while she was in the Majestic Star Casino, has been charged with neglect of a dependant in Lake County.
Highland Police Commander George Georgeff said his department has not had any recent cases of children being left in a car but said the department would intervene in some cases.
“I think if we found something that was in an extreme situation where we felt the parents or the adults neglected the children, we would probably bring those children here and contact Child Protective Services immediately,” he said.
Lt. Rich Hoyda, spokesman for the Hammond Police Department, said parents need to be realistic in how long they’re actually going to be gone from their vehicle.
“Maybe somebody might just think, ‘oh I’m only going to be gone for five minutes,’” he said. “And they forget about the possible danger of it. It’s important people think before they leave somebody in the car.”
Hoyda says the department has responded to similar calls in the past but said that whether a case was criminal would be left to the Lake County prosecutor’s office to decide.
“It’s common sense, and it’s hard to say why would somebody even think of doing that,” he said.