Temperatures in Florida are starting to rise, and with the rise in temperatures comes the dangers of leaving children and pets in hot cars. Children left alone in a car, even in the most moderate temperatures, can be seriously injured or die by the rising heat in the vehicle. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants to remind adults that a heatstroke death in a parked car is a real danger for children.

Citing the 33 deaths of children due to hyperthermia (heatstroke) in 2011, the NHTSA has launched its first-ever national campaign to prevent child heatstroke deaths in cars. The campaign’s slogan, “Where’s baby? Look before you lock,” is meant to encourage parents and caretakers to look and think twice before leaving anyone in a vehicle.

According to the Department of Geosciences at San Francisco State University, since 1998 there have been at least 527 vehicle-related hyperthermia deaths. The University’s study shows that hyperthermia incidents can occur on days with relatively mild temperatures (approximately 70 degrees F) and that rising temperatures inside vehicles can quickly become life threatening.

According to the report, two toddlers in Florida lost their lives to heatstroke from being left inside a car in 2011. A 22-month-old died on July 12 in Homestead, and a 14-month-old died on July 31 in Cape Coral. On those days, the temperature was 91 and 90 degrees, respectively. Fortunately, that number has declined from the four deaths in 2010, and the nine deaths in 2009.

In addition to the number of children that die, countless others suffer serious and permanent injury such as brain injury, blindness, and the loss of hearing.

Florida is one of 19 states that have a law addressing leaving a child in an unattended vehicle. Florida’s law levies a fine of no more than $100 if a child under 6-years-old was left unattended for more than 15 minutes or less than that if the child’s life is in danger. However, if a child dies, additional charges may be filed.

Not all children are left in cars intentionally. Children sometimes crawl into cars to play and go unnoticed by their parent or caregiver. Other times, routines get disrupted and a parent or caregiver may forget about a child in their car after a break in a well-established routine.

According to NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, all that they know about this terrible danger to children indicates that heatstroke in hot vehicles can happen to caregivers from various walks of life, and that most of these cases are accidents that can happen to even the most loving of parents. Strickland hopes that the campaign does not just prevent caregivers from accidentally harming a child, but that it also clarifies a number of misunderstandings that others may have about the causes of child heatstroke in vehicles.

The NHTSA’s campaign entitled “Where’s baby? Look before you lock” offers the following important tips for preventing accidents:

  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle – even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on
  • Make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away
  • Ask the childcare provider to call if the child does not show up for care as expected
  • Do things that serve as a reminder a child is in the vehicle, such as placing a purse or briefcase in the back seat to ensure no child is accidently left in the vehicle, writing a note or using a stuffed animal placed in the driver’s view to indicate a child is in the car seat
  • Teach children a vehicle is not a play area and store keys out of a child’s reach

Our Treasure Coast personal injury attorneys encourage all parents and caregivers to pay special attention to their young children during Florida’s hot summer. We also ask that all Florida residents be cognizant of other children who may be sitting in hot cars around them, and to call 911 or local authorities if you see a child or infant left in a vehicle alone.

About Philip DeBerard, Injury Attorney

The law firm of Philip DeBerard, Injury Attorney, has provided professional and compassionate legal assistance to personal injury and accident victims in South Florida on the Treasure Coast since 1975. The firm’s practice areas include car accidents, motorcycle accidents, truck accidents, product liability, dog bite injuries, swimming pool accidents, slip-and-fall injuries, medical malpractice, and wrongful death claims.

The firm represents clients throughout the South Florida communities of Port St. Lucie, Fort Pierce, Jupiter, Stuart, Okeechobee, Vero Beach, Palm Beach, and across the state of Florida. For more information, call (800) 299-8878 or use the firm’s online contact form.