County police warn of dangers of leaving children in hot cars
Wednesday, 23 July 2014 10:55
 by Nicole Rodman

    Each year across the United States, dozens of children die after being left in hot vehicles.
    In most of these cases, the child was left accidently — forgotten by a parent or caregiver.
    It seems impossible — and most parents think it could never happen to them — yet it does happen, an average of 38 times per year.
    Prior to the 1990s, such deaths were rare. However, with safety advocates urging parents to put children in the back seat — and infants in rear-facing car seats — the number has climbed.
    While tragic, such deaths are highly preventable if precautions are taken.
    So far this year, 17 children have died of hyperthermia (elevated body temperature). Since 1991, at least 613 children have died after being left in hot cars, either accidently or on purpose.
Even on a relatively mild day, temperatures inside a parked car can quickly rise to dangerous levels.
    According to a study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatricians, on a 72-degree day, the interior of a car can reach 117 degrees within one hour.
    Running the air conditioner prior to parking or leaving windows open, the study found, does not keep the inside temperture from rising rapidly.
    Exposure to such high temperatures can be deadly, especially for children.
    The bodies of young children do not handle extreme heat well, making them especially susceptible to hyperthermia.
    “[Children left in hot cars] can suffer heat stroke, heat exhaustion or they could suffer permanent disabilities or death,” Baltimore County police spokeswoman Louise Rogers-Fehrer said.
    While Rogers-Fehrer noted that there have been no reported cases of children dying in hot cars in Baltimore County, it is important to remain aware of the dangers.
    Most of the time, parents who forget their children in the car do so because of stress, a lack of sleep, a busy schedule or a change in routine.
    Rogers-Fehrer offered several tips to help parents avoid making this potentially-fatal mistake.
    “Have a system in place,” she said, urging caregivers to be aware of who has the child at all times.
    She also encouraged caregivers to put their belongings — items like purses, wallets and cell phones — in the back seat. That way, the caregiver is forced to check the back seat before leaving the car.
    Caregivers transporting children should always check the back seat before leaving the car and avoid distractions such as making calls or texting in the car.
    Placing a stuffed animal in a child’s car seat when it is empty, and moving the animal up to the front when the car seat is occupied, can serve as a visual reminder that the child is in the car.
    Rogers-Fehrer also encourages people who see a child left alone in a vehicle to intervene, by calling police and, in an emergency situation, breaking a window to free the child.
    While the county does not have a “Good Samaritan” law to protect individuals who get involved from legal liability, Rogers-Fehrer noted that such an action may very well save a life.
    Whether by accident or on purpose, leaving a child under the age of 8 in a car alone is illegal in Baltimore County.
    Offenders may face charges of leaving a child unattended or, in some cases, neglect or abuse.
    In the case of a child dying after being left in a hot car, charges could be more severe.
    “The circumstances will dictate the charges,” Rogers-Fehrer noted.
    In addition to not leaving children unattended in cars, Rogers-Fehrer also warned that leaving vulnerable adults  or animals in cars should also be avoided.
    For more, check out the non-profit advocacy group Kids and Cars at www.