COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) – The Department of Health and Environmental Control hopes to bring awareness to South Carolina residents about the dangers of leaving children in hot cars, especially during the summer months.
From 1990 to 2020, South Carolina ranked 16th in the nation for the number of child deaths due to being left in a hot car, reporting 21 deaths, according to the National Safety Council.
Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC’s Director of Public Health, says there are three main reasons children are left in cars:
- The caregiver intentionally leaves the child in the car to run an errand.
- The child gains access to the car without the parents’ knowledge and locks him or herself inside.
- The caregiver forgets the child is in the car.
DHEC says the deaths are all preventable. Officials offered advice for how to avoid leaving children in cars.
First, DHEC says to never intentionally leave a child in a car for any length of time.
Jan Null, a pediatric heat stroke researcher and founder of No Heat Stroke, says children and infants are especially susceptible to heat stroke because of their inability to control their internal body temperature as well as adults can.
Null says children’s body temperature rises at a rate that is three to five times higher than an adult’s temperature.
“It does not have to be a really hot day for a car to get to a temperature that it can be fatal to, especially a small infant or a child,” says Null.
To prevent children from gaining access to a car without the parent’s knowledge, Null says to keep cars locked and teach children that cars are not a place to play.
Traxler says the most important way to prevent unintentional hot car deaths is to have a routine.
To avoid forgetting a child in the car, Traxler says having a routine of placing a needed object in the back seat, such as a purse or phone — even when the child is not present — will create a routine of looking in the back seat so a child will not be forgotten.
If a child is forgotten in the car, Null says heat stroke happens when a child’s internal temperature reaches about 107 degrees. At that point, he says organs begin to fail.
Before that point, Traxler says intervention is possible.
“Call 911, still, take your child to be checked out, even if they seem okay,” says Traxler. “Even something as simple as just making sure that they’re well hydrated can make a big difference. Even if it only seems like it’s been 10 minutes or so and it’s not a big deal and the child is talking to you, still take them to get checked out.”
DHEC urges South Carolina residents to “be a hero” and report children locked in cars to authorities and do whatever needed to save the child.
South Carolina’s Good Samaritan Law protects individuals that are forced to break a window to retrieve a child if the car’s owner is not reachable.
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