Outside of crashes, heatstroke is the number one vehicle-related killer of children in the United States. As we enter the hottest months of the year, AAA South Dakota in an attempt to prevent these deaths, reminds parents and caregivers about the dangers of vehicular heatstroke and leaving children in hot cars. In 2018, there were 52 preventable deaths of children in vehicles, a 21-percent increase from 2017, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The number of child heatstroke deaths in recent years is tragic. These are the current national statistics as of July 8, 2019:

• Child heatstroke fatalities this year: 18

• Child heatstroke fatalities in 2018: 52

• Child heatstroke fatalities in 2017: 43

• National average of child heatstroke fatalities per year since 1998: 38

• Total number of child heatstroke fatalities from 1998-present: 813

“As outside temperatures rise, the risk of children dying from vehicular heatstroke increases,” said Marilyn Buskohl for AAA South Dakota. “One child dies from heatstroke nearly every 10 days in the United States from being left in a car or crawling into an unlocked vehicle. What is most tragic is that every single one of these deaths could have been prevented.”

AAA South Dakota reminds all parents and caregivers that prevention is the best way to keep heatstroke at bay. Remember to ACT.

• A — Avoid heat stroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child in a vehicle, even for a minute. Teach your children never to play in or around vehicles.

• C — Create reminders and habits that give you and any caregivers a safety net. Leave an important item — a purse, cell phone or wallet – in the rear seats, prompting you to check the back before locking the doors and walking away. Arrange for your day care provider to call you if your child is unexpectedly absent. Always check in with your spouse after day care drop off, particularly when there’s a change in routine.

• T — Take action if you see an unattended child or pet in a vehicle. Dial 911 and follow the instructions of emergency personnel.

“Parents and caregivers think this could never happen to them — they could never forget their child in the backseat of a car. However, in our fast-paced, sleep-deprived world, this tragic situation happens far too often. It is even more likely to happen when there is a change in a daily routine, such as different driver dropping off the child at daycare,” said Marilyn Buskohl, AAA South Dakota spokesperson.

“Make it a routine to look twice and check the back seat for children before you leave and lock the car,” Buskohl continued. “If you have to put a purse or briefcase in the back seat, a reminder post-it note on your dashboard, an alarm on your phone, or a stuffed animal in the front seat to remember to take a child out of the car, do it. And if a different parent or caregiver is dropping off a child to daycare, call the driver to confirm the child was indeed dropped off.”

If you are a bystander and see a child in a hot vehicle:

• Make sure the child is okay and responsive. If not, call 911 immediately.

• If the child appears to be OK, attempt to locate the parents or have the facility’s security or management page the car owner over the PA system.

• If there is someone with you, one person should actively search for the parent while the other waits at the car.

• If the child is not responsive or appears to be in distress, attempt to get into the car to assist the child — even if that means breaking a window — many states, including South Dakota, have “Good Samaritan” laws that protect people from lawsuits for getting involved to help a person in an emergency.

Know the warning signs of heatstroke, which include red, hot, and moist or dry skin; no sweating; a strong rapid pulse or a slow weak pulse; nausea; confusion; or acting strangely. If a child exhibits any of these signs after being in a hot vehicle, quickly spray the child with cool water or with a garden hose — NEVER put a child in an ice bath. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

A child’s body temperature can rise up to five times faster than an adult’s, and heatstroke can occur in outside temperatures as low as 57 degrees. On an 80-degree day, a car can reach deadly levels in just 10 minutes.

“More than half (54%) of all vehicle-related heatstroke deaths in children are caused by a child accidentally being left in the car, and 26 percent are from a child getting into a hot car unsupervised,” said AAA South Dakota’s Buskohl. “We want to get the word out to parents and caregivers: Look Before You Lock.”

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