Safety advocates urge parents to 'Look Before You Lock' a child in a car

(Photo: Mike Carter-Conneen/ABC7)

On cloudy and relatively cooler days, children being left in hot cars might not be a big concern, but child safety advocates say we need to change that way of thinking. They warn that, even in mild weather, an enclosed car can quickly collect lethal heat.

In College Park, Prince George’s County Fire and the organization Safe Kids Maryland set up a demonstration to show how quickly a car can heat up.

From the start, a thermometer in a locked SUV showed a 10 degree difference - inside versus outside - with the interior temperature climbing and creating a dangerous environment for an unattended child.

PGFD community risk reduction coordinator Teresa Ann Crisman said, “They're defenseless. They can't get out on their own.”

After about 90 minutes, the inside temperature climbed from 87 to 100 degrees. The outside temperature remained in the high 70s and only increased about three degrees.

This demonstration was held on a cloudy day. At a recent demonstration in sunny Ocean City, the car’s temperature hit 150 degrees.

Either way, no matter the weather outside, advocates say it’s a deadly mistake to leave a child in a closed car, even for just a minute.

In many cases, after a heat stroke death, parents tell investigators they simply forgot to drop their child off at daycare or school and that they only discovered the tragic result after returning to their parked car at the end of the day.

“Unfortunately, of the children who are left unintentially in cars, we find they aren't there for 20 minutes. They're there for six or eight hours because it's a full work day and that's how we end up with fatalities,” said Safe Kids Maryland Chair Cynthia Wright-Johnson.

“Children do not have the same ability to give off heat and ventilate heat,” she added.

In May, Prince George's County Police rescued a one-and-a half year old girl from an unattended car, left there maybe three to four hours. She survived.

But so far in 2018, 29 children nationwide have died in hot cars, according to Safe Kids Worldwide. The group says some are cases of neglect or abuse and about a quarter happen when a curious child gets inside an unlocked car and can't escape. But the majority involve forgetful or distracted parents.

“It's hard to imagine you'd forget your kid but sometimes your child is sleeping so peacefully and usually you don't have the kid in a car at that time of day so you forget,” said Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems Child Passenger Safety coordinator Susanne Ogaitis-Jones.

To prevent a tragic accident, advocates suggest parents leave a reminder in the backseat like a purse or even one of your shoes - something that ensures you won't leave your vehicle with your child inside.

Beyond creating some kind of reminder system, they urge parents to always look before you lock. And if you see an unattended child in a locked car, always call 911.

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