Another Child Unattended in Car Dies of Heat Stroke

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sun's rays

The worst thing you can do is think it could not possibly happen to you because it does again and again – year after year. 

On Thursday, May 9, 2019, a 16-month-old child was found dead after being left in a hot car for many hours in Burnaby, British Columbia by both his parents. 

The penalty for seat belt infractions is a fine between $200 and $1,000.00.  The penalty for leaving a child unattended in a car is $60.00. 

sun's rays

The initial news report stated the 16-month-old baby boy was left unattended in the car for nine hours.

Regardless if the time value was 9 hours or many hours, what could possibly have taken precedence without a single thought of your child's well being during that time period?  I just don’t get it…and I suppose, I never will.  One would think that during those long hours, the child would be hungry, very restless and extremely distraught. 

There’s something very wrong with this story.  I believe these parents knew their child was in the car but for whatever reason decided not to attend to his care and needs.

Police are continuing their investigation and interviewing family members, witnesses, pedestrians and people within the neighbourhood.

Parents have been known to forget their child is in the backseat of the car when they have changed their routine, when they are under unusual pressure, or when they believe their child is being cared for by another person – as ludicrous as this may sound. 

Some parents think it's OK to leave their child unattended in a car for just a minute while they run an errand but sadly, end up staying away for a much longer period of time.  It’s so easy to get distracted these days, isn’t it? Then again, some parents are consistently unkind to their children and have a propensity to act irresponsibly - placing their children in harm’s way.  These parents will not take our advice and listen to reason or caution.  They listen to no one.  In all of these cases, the child pays the ultimate price.

According to Child Safety Europe, there were 26 cases of heatstroke in France and Belgium, including seven fatalities from 2007 to 2009 (latest statistics).  54% of the parents had intentionally left the child in the car, while 46% had simply forgotten to drop the child off.  Three deaths occurred last summer in Australia and Israel.

The Canadian government and health institutions do not have the means to collect national statistics, but the Canada Safety Council estimates between four to six children die of vehicular heatstroke in Canada each year.

In the US, 52 children have died of heatstroke in cars in 2018, and 9 have died so far in 2019.

cars parked on a busy street

Montreal Police fined a mother $60.00, the maximum allowable fine, and filed a complaint with child protection services after officers had to break a window to reach her seven-month-old boy who was left in a car while she went shopping.

Witnesses heard the baby crying in the locked car and called 911.  A window had been left open slightly and the outside temperature was 25 C.  Police gave the baby water and he was later taken to hospital to be examined.

The mother insisted she had been gone for “only two minutes” but security cameras prove otherwise.  The baby was left alone for nearly 40 minutes before the police arrived at the scene.

 

There should be zero tolerance in the eyes of the law when it comes to leaving children in cars.  

the law

Since seat belts were made mandatory, the number of people killed and injured in collisions in Ontario has steadily dropped.  So, it begs the questions.  If the penalty for leaving a child unattended in a car is commensurate with the offence, wouldn’t more children’s lives be saved?  Wouldn’t more people be aware of the dangers of leaving a child in a car?  How do you drive the message home when you can't appeal to their common sense?

“For every 1% increase in seat belt usage, 5 lives in Canada are saved,” says Transport Canada.

Canadian Law

Canada’s Criminal Code offers some direction about when it’s appropriate to leave a child unattended. 

Section 218 (R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 218; 2005, c. 32, s. 12.) under Federal Law of Canada’s Criminal Code states:

Every one who unlawfully abandons or exposes a child who is under the age of ten years, so that its life is or is likely to be endangered or its health is or is likely to be permanently injured,

(a) is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; or

(b) is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding eighteen months.

Ontario parents who leave their young unattended may also be subject to the province’s Child and Family Services Act, which outlines behaviour that could prompt an investigation by a local Children’s Aid Society.  This legislation pertains to children 16 and younger, unless the child is already in the Children’s Aid Society (CAS) system, in which case the cut-off extends to 18 years.

The section most relevant to child abandonment in Ontario dictates that a child is in need of protection when he or she has suffered physical harm as a result of their parent’s “failure to adequately care for, provide for, supervise or protect the child.”

Facts

Heatstroke can happen when the temperature is as low as 14 Celsius (57° F) and car interiors can reach well over 43 Celsius (110° F) because solar radiation is trapped in the vehicle. 

hot sun

On a summer day, the temperature inside a car can soar to 50 Celsius (122° F) in as little as 10 to 20 minutes. 

A child’s body temperature can heat up 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s temperature because it is not as efficient in regulating body temperature.

At a body temperature of 41 Celsius (107° F), human cells are damaged and internal organs begin to shut down.

A child left in a sweltering car could go into shock, have organ failure and die — sometimes even after being rushed to hospital.

Cracking a window DOES NOT keep a car cool and DOES NOT provide adequate oxygen for a child to breathe.

Children can gain access to a car that is unlocked in a garage or driveway.  While inside a car, children become overwhelmed by the heat or find themselves trapped and can't get out of the car.  18% of children who succumb to heat stroke crawl into parked cars by themselves.

According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, hot vehicles are the primary non-crash vehicular related killer of children under the age of 14. 

Babies less than one-year-of-age are the most common victim.

Safety Tips

NEVER, EVER leave your children alone in a vehicle – no matter what the season – no matter what the reason.

Make it a habit to place your cell phone, purse, briefcase, or wallet next to your child’s car seat to ensure you open the back door of the vehicle before leaving for your next destination.  Alternately, you can place a stuffed toy in the front seat as a reminder that your child is in the backseat.

You may be more distracted or anxious during holidays or schedule changes, so devise a system that will keep you focussed during these hectic times.

Ask your daycare provider to call you within a few minutes if your child does not show up when expected, and as well, make sure they know you will call them if your child will not be in attendance on a particular day.

Always lock your car to prevent children from gaining access.

Keep your car keys and remote openers out of sight and reach from your children at all times.

Teach children that a car is not a play area.

The moment you realize a child is missing, check your vehicle and trunk and then your pool.

Use drive-thru services when running errands such as banking, dry cleaning and food establishments. 

Use a debit or credit card to pay for gas at the pump.

child sleeping in car seat

Educate family members and caretakers about car seat safety before you leave your children in their hands.

If You See A Young Child in A Parked Car

  1. Don’t hesitate…Call 911 immediately.
  2. Call out for help. Attempt to locate the parents.
  3. If you happen to be at the site with someone else - one person could search for the parent while the other person waits at the car.
  4. If the child is not responsive or appears in distress, attempt to get into the car.

If you are successful in getting the child out of the car, begin a rapid cooling process by taking the child to a cool environment, undressing the child, and sponging with cool water

What are the Warning Signs of Heatstroke?

Babies and young children can overheat quite easily because their tiny bodies do not have the capability to regulate body heat as efficiently as adults do - therefore, their body temperature will rise quickly.  Heat stroke indicates that a person’s body temperature is higher than 40 Celsius (104° F), and possibly as high as 41 Celsius (106° F).  Here are some warning signs of heatstroke:

  • Red, hot dry skin
  • Irritability and moodiness
  • A rapid, strong pulse but weak heart rate
  • Weakness, dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion and delirium
  • Rapid breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Convulsion

If your child exhibits these symptoms:

  • Call 911 immediately
  • Move the child to a cool environment
  • Undress the child
  • Sponge the child with cool water

Do NOT give the child a fever reducer like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.  These medicines are not effective in reducing a high body temperature caused by heat stroke.

Closing Notes

It is imperative for parents and guardians to understand the risks they are taking by leaving children unattended in cars and to act responsibly by providing safeguards for their children’s health, safety and well-being.

The automotive industry has been sensitive to this problem for many years but have yet to come up with a solution that they believe is both reliable and fool proof. While technology does exist to equip vehicles with a sensor or warning device system that would alert the driver if a child is left in a vehicle (no different than sensors that detect low tires, keys and seat belts), the U.S. Department of Transportation concurs, along with automakers, that the solution to child vehicular heatstroke deaths is education and awareness.

When I point my face towards a sunny sky, I always get this nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach that I will read about one more child that has died from heatstroke in a car. How many times does history have to repeat itself? How many children have to pay the ultimate price for our careless mistakes?

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