Not even for a minute: Dangers for children in hot cars

Experts say: Never leave children alone in a car

By Lindsey Kennett - Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - The weather is warming up and medical experts and Child Protective Services employees are warning parents and guardians to never leave children alone in a car because there's a risk of them developing heatstroke.

The experts said it's never a safe practice, whether parents are making a quick trip to the store, dropping something off at the post office or chatting with a neighbor.

Every year, for one reason or another, parents leave their kids in hot cars and the action has dangerous consequences. A car can heat up 19 degrees every 10 minutes, even with the windows cracked, in the sun or shade.

"So, if it's 90 degrees outside, you leave your child in the car for 10 minutes -- if the car's not running with the air conditioning on -- your car's going to heat up," said Tanya Trevilian, the pediatric trauma program coordinator at Carilion Children's Hospital. "And then it keeps going up from there,"

The biggest danger is heatstroke, which can cause organ failure, brain damage or death.

In the U.S. in 2018, 52 kids died from heatstroke after being left in a car. So far in 2019, seven have died.

Virginia ranks ninth in the country for the highest number of deaths, with 25 since 1998.

According to the organization Safe Kids Worldwide, the main reasons for child vehicular deaths across the country are:

54%   -- Forgotten in vehicle by caregiver

26.3%  -- Gained access to vehicle on their own

18.9%  -- Knowingly left  in vehicle by caregiver

Trevilian said it's not unheard of for parents to forget that their children are in the car, especially when child care duties are not part of a guardian's regular schedule.

"It might not be their normal routine to take them to the day care, might not be their normal routine to have them with them and they forget that they're there," Trevilian said.

Roanoke City Child Protective Services supervisor Donald Goss said parents should get in the habit of putting something they need for the day in the back seat next to their kids, so it forces them to look in the back of the car.

"Briefcase, lunchbox, paperwork that you need for whatever the destination you're going to," said Goss. "Then, also, to put something in the front seat that's the child's so that you have a visual cue that the child is there with you."

Experts say carelessness and decisions made out of convenience can cost a child's life.

"Do whatever you need to do to remind yourself that your child is with you and that you make sure that they're safe," Trevilian said.

If you see a child alone in a car, experts say you need to call 911.

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