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101 Critical Days of Summer: A car is not a child’s toy

Placing a needed item such as a purse, wallet, lunch bag or uniform hat in the backseat is one way parents can avoid forgetting their child is with them. (Air Force photo illustration by Kelly White)

Placing a needed item such as a purse, wallet, lunch bag or uniform hat in the backseat is one way parents can avoid forgetting their child is with them. (Air Force photo illustration by Kelly White)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- When the outside temperature is 93 degrees, even with a window cracked, the temperature inside a car can reach 125 degrees in just 20 minutes and approximately 140 degrees in 40 minutes.

Children should never be left alone inside a car, even for a few minutes. From 1996 through 2000, more than 120 children -- most of them ages 3 and younger -- died from heat stroke after being trapped in a car. In summer 1999, an average of one child every four days died after being trapped in a car parked in the searing heat. And this unpardonable travesty against children still continues to this very day.

Many parents mistakenly think they can leave a child in a vehicle while running a "quick" errand. Unfortunately a delay of just a few minutes can lead to tragedy. Heat is much more dangerous to children than it is to adults. When left in a hot vehicle, a young child's core body temperature can increase three to five times faster than that of an adult, causing permanent injury or death.

"Extreme heat affects infants and small children disproportion-ately," said Martin Eichelberger, M.D., director of trauma surgery at Children's National Medical Center and president of the National SAFE KIDS Campaign. "Heat rapidly overwhelms the body's ability to regulate temperature. In a closed environment, the body can go into shock and circulation to vital organs will begin to fail."

Safety in your driveway
While parked in a driveway, a car can be especially hazardous. Unlocked cars pose serious risks to children who are naturally curious and often lack fear. Once they crawl in, children don't have the developmental capability to get out. More than a third of deaths reported last year occurred when children crawled into unlocked cars while playing, they became trapped and perished in the sweltering heat.

The National SAFE KIDS Campaign warns parents to be especially vigilant about their children's safety on days when temperatures are 80 degrees or higher by offering the following safety precautions to combat heat-related injuries in cars.

· Never leave a child in an unattended car, even with the windows down.
· Teach children not to play in or around cars.
· Always lock car doors and trunks even at home.
· Be wary of child-resistant locks. Teach older children how to disable the driver's door locks if they unintentionally become entrapped in a motor vehicle.
· Check to make sure all children leave the vehicle when you reach your destination
· Don't overlook sleeping infants
· Watch children closely around cars, particularly when loading and unloading.
· Make sure you check the temperature of the car seat surface and safety belt buckles before restraining your children in the car.
· Use a light covering to shade the seat of your parked car. Consider using windshield shades in front and back windows.

Trunks are for elephants, not for children
Children may think the trunk is a fun hiding place, but if they become trapped, they could suffer a devastating heat stroke leading to permanent injury or death. Keep car keys out of children's reach and sight.

Keep the trunk of the car locked at all times, especially when parked in the driveway or near the home.

Keep the rear fold-down seats closed to help prevent kids from getting into the trunk from inside the car.

Call an automobile dealership about getting a vehicle retrofitted with a trunk release mechanism.

If a child gets locked inside a car, get him out and dial 9-1-1 or a local emergency number immediately.