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Tuesday, May 16

Five quick tips to prevent hot-car child deaths

A 7-month-old boy died in a hot car in a Helotes Wal-Mart parking lot Aug. 12 last year. According to news stories the child's father arrived for his shift at Wal-Mart around 6:15 that morning and had forgotten to drop his son off at day care. The child was discovered by the father that afternoon about 3 o'clock - far too late. Temperatures in the area had reached triple digits that day outside the car, with temperatures inside the car rising at least another 20 degrees.
The boy was the 27th child that died from vehicular heatstroke in the US last year, and the sixth here in Texas. By the end of the year 39 children died across the country from vehicular heatstroke - the most since 2013 and sixth-highest all-time.

Stats from
Already local temperatures have been reaching the low-90s since April, but the weather doesn't need to be particularly hot to lead to a tragedy. In March nine-month-old Bryce Balfour died of heatstroke in his mom's car with outside temps in Virginia barely reaching the mid-60s. Despite the relatively cool temps outside the interior was a scorching 110, more than enough to cause heat stroke.
Bryce Balfour was nine months old
when he died of vehicular heat stroke
March 2017.
Photo credit:
Bryce's mom said he had been sick all week and his parents hadn't been sleeping too well. When the exhaustion paired with an odd morning - some distractions through phone calls, major routine changes and changes in the placement of Bryce's diaper bag and car seat contributed to her believing she had dropped Bryce at daycare - the situation was ripe for tragedy. At this point the family has done what others have done in hoping their story can help save a child elsewhere. Bryce is one of six children who have died from vehicular heatstroke already in 2017. These are preventable deaths if we all follow some quick and easy steps. It is in that spirit we offer five quick tips to make sure you never have to think, as Bryce's mom thought, something like this could never happen to you.
1 - This absolutely could happen to you
"When the ambulance arrives and we rush to the hospital, I am in shock and overcome in disbelief that this cannot be happening to me," Bryce's mom wrote. "I cannot be the type of mother who would accidentally forget her child."
This is a familiar refrain from other parents sharing their stories. Each has admitted, in one way or another, criticizing parents involved with other tragedies while simultaneously scoffing at the idea this could ever happen to them. Good parents would never forget a child, after all, and we all believe ourselves to be fantastic parents.
In this arena, however, a truly good parent is one who can readily admit their own vulnerability to an event like this. Honest confession of the reality of this threat is the first step toward prevention in your family.
2 - Always check the back seat
Dozens of techniques or suggestions exist to help make this routine, ranging from sticky notes to bracelets to other devices. The bottom line: simply get into the habit of checking all car seats before leaving your vehicle. The life of any parent with small children is hectic and problems can come quickly when other routines are broken. This is the routine that safeguards against other broken routines! If you need some ideas, try one of these:
  • Open the back doors - an act that can double to make sure your vehicle is secure - before walking away.
  • Keep a large stuffed animal in the car seat that gets moved to the front seat when a child is on board.
  • Place a diaper bag in the front seat each time a child is in his or her car seat.
  • Store your phone (or something else you'd never leave your car without) near your child's car seat. This could also serve to reduce your distractions while driving!

3 - Secure your car at home
This sounds like a basic idea, but so many - particularly in rural areas - keep their vehicles open and unlocked while at home. Locking a car doesn't simply deter a bad guy from taking your stuff; the act prevents children from getting into and playing in hot cars. Those with small children know how much kids love to play in cars - there's just something about a steering wheel that's more alluring to a toddler than a teenager.
Kids often get into cars to retrieve a favorite toy - sometimes sent by their parents. Many parents engage the child lock on the car door, preventing children from opening the door from the inside. This can become tragically fatal if a child shuts the door. The answer isn't to disengage the child safety lock (it's there for a reason!), but to simply keep the car secured and keep tabs on the kids when they are sent to fetch something from your vehicle. Remember: it only takes 15 minutes for a child to die or suffer lasting harm from heat stroke.
Don't feel bad about asking visitors and neighbors to similarly secure their vehicles - safety is the responsibility of everybody.
And pay special attention to your trunk - we often forget about that compartment, though most of us frequently fail to shut it completely when driving around.

4 - Set up a phone reminder from your daycare or school
Most stories we hear - including those of Bryce and of our young friend from Helotes - involve parents mistakenly believing they had dropped off their children at day care. By time the realization sets in a mistake was made, several hours have passed and it's too late.
The folks at say you should have a strict policy in place with your childcare provider about drop-off. If your child isn't attending daycare as scheduled, it's the parents' responsibility to alert the childcare provider. If your child does not arrive as scheduled and have not received a call from a parent, they pledge to contact you immediately.
We have similar programs in place with our schools - the "absence hotline" that calls home when a child misses classes at various levels. This system isn't automated, though, and involves your child care provider reaching out until they've successfully made contact. This simple reminder might just save the life of your child.

5 - If you see something, take action
If you see a child - or a pet! - alone in a car, even with the windows left open a crack, call 911 immediately. If the child is visibly hot or in distress, get them out of the vehicle as quickly as possible. First check all doors to see if a door was left unlocked. If the car is locked select a window away from the child to break so the broken glass doesn't cause any injury to the child. Do not attempt to break the window with your hand or elbow to avoid injury to yourself. Once a window is opened, unlock and open the doors. Treat the child for heat stroke as appropriate.
Make sure someone is sent into the establishment near the car to locate the child's caretaker. Remember to reserve judgment - most of these issues involve otherwise excellent parents who suffer a momentary lapse.
One note worth sharing: many states have adopted laws protecting good Samaritans in the act of saving a child from a hot car. Texas has not yet adopted such a law, and we're not here to advocate in one way or another (it's illegal for us to do so). We simply want folks to be aware of the laws and protections that are or are not out there. Right now Texas law is silent in any direction on this matter.

Bonus - Use drive-through services when available
It's counter-intuitive to those hoping to add to their daily steps through running errands, but this minor convenience service could prove life-saving. Parents look to avoid waking children up from midday naps, and have even been known to leave a child in a car intentionally because the child is napping. These children sadly never wake up when temps rise. Again, it only takes 15 minutes for a problem to arise. Most of us can't run into a grocery store and successfully get a gallon of milk in less time than that.
Drive-through services are everywhere now: banking, restaurants, pharmacies, dry cleaners and grocery stores. Consider using these services when running errands with children to ensure your children remain safe. When getting gas, pay at the pump when possible so your child isn't left unattended in that hot car.
For those of you looking to add to those steps, you'll have to make them up with a walk to the mailbox or something. Be sure to take your stroller, though, and make sure your kids enjoy the walk with you.