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 KidsAndCars.org|
Bryce Balfour was nine months old
when he died of vehicular heat stroke
Photo credit: KidsAndCars.com.
"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.
- 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 KidsAndCars.org 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