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"Children should never be left unattended in a vehicle for any amount of time. The interior temperature of a car rises at an alarming rate and can quickly reach dangerous levels that put children at risk. Heat stroke can be deadly or result in severe and permanent injuries," said DCFS Secretary Suzy Sonnier.
Last year alone, DCFS investigated cases involving six children. These cases resulted in three deaths and three children with serious or permanent injuries including permanent brain damage, blindness, kidney failure and second degree burns.
DCFS reports that in cases investigated as abuse or neglect, 21 children in Louisiana have died from hyperthermia (heat stroke) as a result of being left in unattended vehicles since 1989.
"Even if you only expect an errand to take a few minutes, such as picking up a few groceries or dropping something off at a neighbor's house, the risk is simply too great," said Sonnier. "There are too many potential delays, distractions and other factors that can have grave consequences."
Sonnier added that in addition to the risk for children, leaving a child unattended in a car is illegal.
Louisiana is one of 19 states with laws against leaving children unattended in a vehicle. The law mandates a fine of up to $500 or imprisonment of up to six months, or both for a first offense. For subsequent offenses, the fine ranges between $1,000 and $5,000 with jail time of not less than one year or more than two years, or both.
"This law is in place to keep children safe because heat stroke is not the only risk facing unattended children in a car," said Sonnier. "Leaving the engine on or the windows down creates other hazards. Children can accidentally shift the car into gear, get caught in a power window, or face other dangers."
If you see a child left unattended in a vehicle, contact local law enforcement or dial 911 immediately.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the interior temperature in a car can rise 20 degrees in just 10 minutes even with the windows opened up to two inches. For example, recent high temperatures in Louisiana have reached to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and above in some areas. After just ten minutes at this temperature, the interior of a car would be 110 degrees Fahrenheit, which is enough to put anyone left inside, especially a child, at risk.
The NHTSA offers the following safety tips:
- Teach children not to play in, on or around vehicles.
- Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even with the window slightly open or with the engine running and the air conditioner on.
- Always lock an unattended vehicle's doors and trunk - especially at home. Keep keys and remote entry devices out of children's reach. If a child is missing, check the vehicle first, including the trunk.
- Check to ensure all children leave the vehicle when you reach your destination. Don't overlook sleeping infants.
- If you are bringing your child to school or daycare when it is not part of your normal routine, have your spouse or someone else call you to make sure everything went according to plan.
- Ask your childcare provider to call you if your child does not show up for childcare.
- Do things to remind yourself that a child is in the vehicle, such as:
- Writing yourself a note and putting the note where you will see it when you leave the vehicle;
- Placing your purse, briefcase or something else you need in the back seat so that you will have to check the back seat when you leave the vehicle; or
- Keeping an object in the car seat, such as a stuffed toy. When the child is buckled in, place the object where the driver will notice it when he or she is leaving the vehicle.
- If a child is in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible. Warning signs may include: red, hot, and moist or dry skin, no sweating, a strong rapid pulse or a slow weak pulse, nausea or acting strangely. Cool the child rapidly. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.