Parents, caregivers should ACT before leaving vehicle unattended

Heatstroke infographic

A heatstroke, also known as sun stroke, is a type of severe heat illness that results in a body temperature greater than 104 degrees and confusion. The U.S. had 42 child vehicular heat deaths in 2017, according to the Texas Heatstroke Task Force. Texas ranks No. 1 in hot car deaths. (Courtesy of safekids.org)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Nicole Kidman said it best, “The loss of a child is the most terrifying place for me to go,” after losing two pregnancies. 

No one would want to ever imagine losing a child. The Sheppard Air Force Base Chattler Family Advocacy Program would like bring awareness to the leading cause of non-crash-related fatalities for children 14 and younger – heatstroke.

A heatstroke, also known as sun stroke, is a type of severe heat illness that results in a body temperature greater than 104 degrees and confusion. The U.S. had 42 child vehicular heat deaths in 2017, according to the Texas Heatstroke Task Force. Texas ranks No. 1 in hot-car deaths. 

The life of one child in Eagle Pass Texas has already been claimed by vehicular heatstroke in 2018, and six other close calls have been reported in Katy, Baytown, and Burleson. Wichita Falls is no Death Valley, one of the hottest places in the U.S., but Wichita Falls does have some extreme summer temperatures that can lead to vehicular heatstrokes. The average temperature in Wichita Falls is 98 degrees during the summer months, often rising above 100 degrees. 

Even leaving a child inside a parked car for a few minutes in the shade is not safe.  A recent study from Arizona State University found that even in the shade, the temperature in a car increases quickly and leads, on average, to 37 child deaths each year. An 80-degree outside temperature will increase to 130 degrees inside of a car in 10-15 minutes. This is clearly not safe for children or pets.

Don’t let your child be next.  

Adults and caregivers express some of the following sentiments at the Chattler Family Advocacy Program during discussions about vehicular heatstrokes:

“Of course not!” or “We would never allow our children to be in danger or subjected to such cruelty.”

Some raise valid questions like: “How can anyone do this?” or “How could a parent forget about their child?”

Sometimes, we even hear the following: “If you need something to remind you there is a child in the back seat, you shouldn’t have children in the first place.” 

Regardless of whether you think this could happen to your child or not, there is always a possibility. Parents do “forget” children. In some instances, your child may climb into your car without your knowledge to hide and play. Not every heat related incident is due to faulty parenting. We, however, all bear a responsibility to know where our children are at all times.

“Heatstroke tragedies are absolutely heartbreaking, and a reminder for all of us to be aware of the dangers of leaving a child alone in a car,” said Johnny Humphreys, Texas Heatstroke Task Force chair. “Everyone is asked to help protect kids from this preventable tragedy by never leaving a child alone in a car, not even for a minute.

In Texas, it is illegal to leave a child in a motor vehicle without the presence of an adult, regardless of the time of year. Under Texas Penal Code, Title 5, Chapter 22, Section 10, you are not allowed to leave a child in a vehicle for more than five minutes if you know:

  • The child is younger than 7 years old
  • The child is not accompanied by another person who is 14 years or older

The crime is considered a Class C misdemeanor and is also an act of neglectful supervision that Child Protective Services will investigate.

So, what can caregivers and parents do this summer season to avoid tragedy?

For parents and caregivers on the go, the free mobile app “The BackSeat” is designed to automatically alert adults and caretakers of children to ensure no child is left unattended in a vehicle. Parents can also use the following prevention tool from the Texas Heatstroke Task Force: A-C-T

Avoid heatstroke-related injury by never leaving your child alone in a car. Always lock your doors and trunks – including in your driveway or garage. If a child goes missing, check the pool first, then check the vehicles, including trunks. Keep keys and key fobs out of a child's reach.

Create reminders. Routinely place something you'll need at your next stop – like a purse, briefcase or cellphone – in the back next to the child safety seat.

Take Action. If you see a child alone in a car, take action. Call 911.

Taking preventive steps now will help everyone to ensure that this summer is a great one for you and your child.

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel to call Chattler Family Advocacy Program at   940-676-2271. You can also visit the www.safekids.org site for more information on the Texas Heatstroke Task Force.