Saving Lives of Children in Parked Cars

The parking industry is in a unique position to save the lives of a few children this year. We can also prevent devastation and wheresbaby_4cheartbreak for parents who unintentionally forget their children in parked cars, where escalating temperatures can cause heatstroke (hyperthermia) and death in a matter of minutes. Yes, minutes.

When the outside temperature is 80 degrees the inside temperature of a car, even with a window cracked open, can heat to 99 degrees within 10 minutes; 109 degrees in 20 minutes, 114 degrees in 30 minutes, and 123 degrees within an hour. Children’s bodies heat up three to five times faster than those of adults. This is illustrated in a video produced by the General Motors Company that can be viewed under the vehicle heating tab on the website of Jan Null, a geophysics professor at San Francisco University who has researched and documented heatstroke among children in parked cars.

IPI issued a news release, “Parked Car Alert: International Parking Institute  Warns of Child Deaths in Summer Heat,” to media outlets last week, and sent our allied state and regional parking associations a localized news release so they can assist in this public service effort.

Every year, more than 20 children die in hot parked cars in the U.S. alone. State laws vary. In some, parents are sent to jail for murder, leaving behind spouses, other children, and shattered families.

Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning column on this topic in 2010. “Fatal Distraction:  Forgetting a Child in the Back Seat of a Car is a Horrifying Mistake. Is it a Crime?”  The column will be painful to read, but I hope you will. Weingarten provides the details, both personal and legal, of numerous cases where children died from heatstroke after being unintentionally left in cars.  Weingarten admits to very nearly leaving his own child in a parked car once–the only thing that saved his baby was a sound from the backseat just before he exited the vehicle. If not for that, Weingarten laments that he, too, would have left his child to die in the car.

How many children have died in your state this year? You can find out here.

Tomorrow, July 31 is National Heat Stroke Prevention Day, sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Null’s website and SafeKids Worldwide provide good advice, including:

  • Never leave a child alone in a car, even if you think it’s “only for a minute.”
  • Remember that you are traveling with a child by placing an item you need such as a purse or cellphone in the backseat.
  • Consider placing a large stuffed animal in the car seat when it is not in use, and moving it to the front seat as a reminder a child is in the back.
  • If you see an unattended child in a parked vehicle, call 9-1-1 to bring assistance from a local police or fire department that can open the car while parents are located. If the child is in distress due to heat, find a way to get the child out immediately and spray the child with cool water.

Those who manage or own parking facilities may be able to do more than the average citizen by finding ways to post remembers for patrons.  NHTSA offers ways to become involved in their campaign, “Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock” along with an informative, downloadable pdf.

NHTSA is asking people to tweet and post on Facebook every hour on the hour between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. on July 31 using the hash tag #heatstroke. We will be joining in that effort at #IntlParkingInst and on IPI’s Facebook page.

This is a perfect time for all of us to be alert to children (and pets, too) left unattended in parked cars, and to share the message with others that in these cases every minute counts.

About Helen Sullivan

Helen Sullivan is IPI’s communications counsel.

Comments

  1. Tim Haahs says:

    This is a great article about going beyond parking. I often find myself reminding people in our industry that just as a doctor’s responsibility is not only to heal people but also to prevent people from getting sick. Our role should not be limted to providing the needed parking, but to find ways to reduced the required parking spaces.

    Your article is about going beyond parking: protecting and preventing people and babies from getting hurt. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Mark Wright says:

    Excellent, Helen. Important reminder that parking is really more about ‘people’ than about infrastructure.

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