FROM TOWSON PATCH:
YES, THERE HAVE BEEN CAR HEAT DEATHS IN MARYLAND
IT IS NEVER OK TO LEAVE A CHILD UNATTENDED IN A CAR
There have been 14 heatstroke fatalities between 1990 and 2017 in Maryland, according to Kidsandcars.org, which keeps a database of these tragedies.
Hot-car deaths can occur anywhere, though they happen most often in states where temperatures are the hottest.
The interior of cars can become deadly in as little as 10 minutes, Jan Null, an adjunct professor and research meteorologist at San Jose State University, told Patch. It’s never OK to leave a child unattended in a car, he said.
Hot cars are especially dangerous for children – particularly babies, who dehydrate more quickly than adults and can’t regulate their body temperature. Their bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults’ do, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Ruckersville, Virginia, mom Raelyn Balfour learned that the hard way. She forgot to drop off her 9-month-old son, Bryce, at his babysitter’s on March 30, 2007, a day the high temperature was in the mid-60s.
Balfour had heard about hot car deaths, but believed they had irresponsible parents until the tragedy involving her own son. The day Bryce died, she felt tired, overwhelmed and distracted and thought she had dropped him off.
“The fact is that heatstroke tragedies happen to loving, caring, attentive parents,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said. “The vast majority of these tragedies happen when a child is mistakenly left behind in a vehicle or when an unattended child gains access to a vehicle.”
In many cases, a parent completely loses awareness that the child is in the car.
“It’s our brain habit system. It allows you to do things without thinking about it,” David Diamond, professor of psychology, molecular pharmacology and physiology at the University of South Florida, told ABC News.
The problem is particularly acute among parents experiencing sleep deprivation or stress, Diamond said.
“You sort of go in autopilot mode,” he said, explaining how a routine drive from home to work, instead of home to the daycare center, is automatic.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offers some tips for parents:
- Look before you lock: Checking the back seats of your vehicle before you lock it and walk away.
- Do routine checks: If someone else is driving your child, or your daily routine has been altered, make a call to ensure the child arrived safely at the destination.
- Keep your keys out of children’s reach: Nearly three in 10 heatstroke deaths happen when an unattended child gains access to a vehicle, the NHTSA said.
- Leave yourself a gentle reminder: Keeping a stuffed toy or other memento in your child’s car seat, then move it to the front seat as a visual reminder when the baby is in the back seat. Or, place your phone, briefcase or purse in the back seat when traveling with your child.
From 1990-2017, only two states — Alaska and Vermont — reported no deaths due to vehicular heat stroke, according to KidsAndCars.org.
Beth Dalbey of Patch’s national staff contributed to this report.
Photos via Shutterstock.