COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – South Carolina’s top health agency is reminding people about the dangers of leaving unattended children in a car for any period, especially during the hot summer months, because it can lead to heatstroke or even death.
There have been 20 hot car deaths in South Carolina since 1998, with the most recent happening last week in Spartanburg, according to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Health leaders say children are especially vulnerable to hot car deaths because their ability to regulate their own body temperature is not fully developed and warms three to five times faster than an adult.
“Temperatures inside a vehicle can reach life-threatening levels even on mild or cloudy days,” said Dr. Virginie Daguise, Director of DHEC’s Bureau of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention. “There is no safe amount of time to leave a child in a car, and it’s unsafe to leave a child with the windows down.”
The main circumstances that contribute to hot car deaths involving children include:
• A caregiver forgetting a child in a vehicle
• The child gaining access to the vehicle
• Someone knowingly leaving a child in a vehicle
DHEC and the National Safety Council remind those to “Look before you lock.” This means you should also check the back seat for a child before locking your car and leaving it parked anywhere.
Other tips DHEC recommends:
• Parents and caregivers should stick to a routine and avoid distractions to reduce the risk of forgetting a child.
• If you do have a change in routine, such as your parent or spouse dropping off your child instead of you, ask that they communicate with you to confirm drop-off.
• Place a purse, briefcase, or even a shoe in the back seat to force you to take one last look before walking away.
• Keep car doors locked so children cannot gain access and teach them that cars are not play areas.
• Ask your babysitter or childcare provider to call you if your child hasn’t arrived as scheduled.
“Anyone commuting, traveling, or running an errand with a child in tow should be vigilant so the child, especially if he or she is sleeping, isn’t accidentally left behind,” said Dr. Daguise. “Try talking to the child or singing songs while you’re riding so you’re actively engaged with him or her and find a creative trick that works for you that reminds you to ‘look before you lock.’”
And it’s not just for children. Pets can also experience severe illness or death if they are left alone in a vehicle, even if the windows are left open.
Anyone who sees a child or pet alone in an unattended vehicle should make sure the child or pet is responsive and attempt to quickly locate the parents. Otherwise, call 911 immediately. If the child or pet appears to be in distress, attempt to enter the car to assist – even if that means breaking a window. South Carolina has a “Good Samaritan” law that protects people from lawsuits for getting involved to help a person in an emergency.