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Governor’s Highway Safety Team urges parents, caregivers to keep kids safe from hot cars

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While many parents think this could never happen to them, statistics show even the most doting parents can fall victim.

Fifty-two children died last year in the United States after being left in or getting trapped in a hot car. The Governor’s Executive Leadership Team on Highway Safety urges parents to make a plan now to prevent tragedies later.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the leading cause of child vehicular heatstroke deaths (54%) occur because a parent or other caregiver accidentally left the child in the car.

NHTSA cites trends reported by researcher Jan Null who has been tracking vehicular heatstroke deaths since 1998:

  • Nearly half the time a child was forgotten, the caregiver meant to drop the child off at day care or preschool.
  • Nearly three-quarters of children who died after accidentally being left in a hot vehicle were under age 2.
  • The highest number of deaths were recorded on Thursdays and Fridays.

“NHTSA encourages parents to ‘look before you lock.’ It is simple but sound advice,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “Something as easy as putting your purse, briefcase or cellphone in the backseat with your child will prompt you to look in the backseat.”

According to NHTSA, the second leading cause of child vehicular heatstroke occurs when children get into an unattended car unbeknownst to the adults caring for them — sometimes to play or hide. If a child goes missing, your car, including the trunk, should be one of the first places searched. Parents should always keep cars locked – and keys out of reach – when not in use. Family members and good neighbors should join in this practice.

The third cause occurs when a parent or caregiver knowingly leaves a child in an unattended car, thinking that the temperature isn’t hot enough to be a concern. In this scenario, the parent might initially intend to leave the car for only a minute, but loses track of time, and the child’s life is quickly put in danger.

NHTSA warns that a child’s body temperature can rise three-to-five times faster than an adult’s and, even with the windows down, temperatures within the car can quickly become deadly.

Vehicular heatstroke prevention applies to vulnerable adults as well, including the elderly. People should also look out for their pets.

“In Virginia, the days are hot in the summer. The temperature in a car can quickly rise into the 100s and can become deadly in a matter of minutes,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “Even parked in the shade with a window cracked, it can simply get too hot too fast. If you see a child, an elderly person or a pet in a dangerous situation like this, call 911 immediately. Their life may depend on it.”

The Governor’s Executive Leadership Team on Highway Safety is sharing messaging about vehicular heatstroke prevention on social media and the Virginia Department of Transportation’s changeable message boards.

Led by the Secretary of Transportation and the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security, the team is composed of representatives from the Virginia Departments of Motor Vehicles, Health, Education, Transportation and State Police. It is charged with reducing serious injuries and fatalities on Virginia’s roadways and driving change in the Commonwealth’s highway safety culture.