Wicker: Summer months pose unique risk to young children
Each summer, dozens of American families suffer the heartbreaking loss of a child from heatstroke in hot cars. Last year, more than 50 U.S. children died in hot cars, and unfortunately this year we have already had several hot car deaths. These avoidable tragedies leave permanent scars in the lives of families.
Children are at heightened risk of heatstroke. Their body temperatures can rise three to five times faster than an adult’s. A parked vehicle can heat up by 20 degrees within just 10 minutes, making it a dangerous place for a young child.
As we enter the peak of summer, parents and caretakers should be aware of these risks and take appropriate precautions. I am working to advance a comprehensive approach that will help our nation reduce hot car deaths among our youngest citizens.
Installing new safety systems
Last year, I introduced the HOT CARS Act, which would mandate that all new vehicles be equipped with an alert system reminding drivers to check their backseats before leaving the vehicle. Such an alert would take only a second of the driver’s time and could save many lives.
This proposal got the attention of the auto industry. After consulting with industry leaders, we agreed that they would voluntarily implement the safety system in new vehicles by 2024. Almost every automaker in America entered this agreement, so its effects will be significant. Under the agreement, automakers will begin implementing changes quickly to start saving lives as soon as possible.
Automakers are beginning to make good on their commitment. Some have already implemented the system, as I have seen in my own car. Auto companies should keep up the progress, and I will continue working to make sure they uphold their pledge.
Steps everyone can take
As important as safety systems are, technology is not perfect. We all have a role to play in protecting our children. A few simple steps can go a long way toward keeping them safe.
The most important step is never to leave a child alone in the car for any period of time. A parent or caretaker might think they are running into the store quickly, but it is too easy to lose track of time and forget about the child in the car.
Another helpful step is to make a habit of leaving a cell phone, keys, briefcase, or purse in the backseat in order to keep one’s attention near the child. In addition, consider arranging for a child’s school or daycare to call home if the child does not arrive as scheduled.
Lastly, when leaving an empty car, lock it so that a child does not climb inside and become trapped. Sadly, this is how two young children died a few weeks ago in Oklahoma.
These tragedies can happen to anyone — young or old, male or female, parent or grandparent, rich or poor. As caretakers, we all have a duty to educate ourselves and take precautions to protect our young ones.