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April 29, 2021 - With Oklahoma topping the nation in per capita deaths of children in hot cars, AAA Oklahoma, Safe Kids Oklahoma, OU Health and other child safety organizations are urging parents and others caring for young children to be intentional in efforts to avoid such tragedies. Saturday, May 1, is National Heatstroke Prevention Day.
Of 24 children who died inside hot cars in the U.S. in 2020, four were in Oklahoma. According to reports, two died after getting into a vehicle without the knowledge of a parent and being unable to get out. One occurred as a parent became involved in a conversation with a visitor and didn’t realize one of several children in his care was still in the vehicle after that unexpected interaction occurred. The fourth child who died was inadvertently left in a vehicle by a mother who reported exhaustion and sleep deprivation that likely affected her judgement.
“All these scenarios can occur to well-meaning and responsible parents,” said Leslie Gamble, AAA Oklahoma spokesperson. “Changes in routines often trigger situations that lead to heatstroke deaths. So, especially as temperatures rise, we urge parents to take specific precautions to prevent child heatstroke in vehicles. Simple, but consistent steps can prevent the unimaginable grief of the loss of a child.”
“Children have died of heat stroke on a 52-degree day,” according to Laura Gamino, RN, OU Trauma One Injury Prevention Coordinator and Safe Kids Metro Oklahoma City coordinator. “Even on a mild spring day, the temperature inside of a car can rise 19 degrees in just ten minutes. And it continues to rise, creating a dangerous environment for children who are unattended.”
Gamino urges parents to say the phrase, “Park. Look. Lock.” as a conscious reminder each time they turn their cars off after driving. Intentionally going through the steps of looking in the back seat after parking and before locking the car can prevent situations, resulting from temporary mind lapses or even communications mix-ups regarding transporting a child.
Safe Kids also recommends internalizing the acronym A-C-T to avoid child entrapment in a hot car:
A – Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving a child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you’re not inside so kids don’t get in on their own.
C – Create reminders. Keep a stuffed animal or other memento in your child’s car seat when it’s empty and move it to the front seat as a visual reminder when your child is in the back seat. Or place and secure your phone, purse or backpack in the backseat when traveling with your child.
T – Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 9-1-1. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations.
Entrapment in hot vehicles has led to 29 deaths of children, ages 14 or younger in Oklahoma in the past 22 years. “100 percent of these tragedies are preventable,” Gamble said. “National Heatstroke Prevention Day is a rallying point for all Oklahomans who care for children to join together to reverse these sad trends in our state. It happens one conversation at a time among all those involved with children.”