May 14, 2004

Group urges bystanders to report kids left in cars

Warren, Michigan – Since 2001, the National Safe Kids Campaign and General Motors have been educating the public on the dangers of leaving children unattended in motor vehicles with a campaign called “Never Leave Your Child Alone.” According to GM research, there were almost 70 percent more of such fatalities reported in 2003 than in 2002 in the United States. Since 1996, GM researchers have identified a total of 228 fatalities based upon media reports, however, the actual number could be higher. Until now, education and outreach efforts have been aimed mostly at parents and other people who transport children. This year the partner organizations are extending their campaign to involve bystanders.

“Many of these deaths happen when a child is left behind or forgotten by an adult, while others occur when a child gains access to an unlocked car and can not get out,” said Dr. Angela Mickalide, program director of the National Safe Kids Campaign. “We want parents to know that leaving a child alone in a vehicle, even for a few minutes, is never OK. We also want people to know that if they see a small child alone in a vehicle, they need to get help.”

GM research shows that children also are dying when they gain access to an unlocked vehicle, often in their own driveway, and then are not able to get themselves out.

In studies commissioned by GM of Canada, Dr. Oded Bar-Or of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, has shown how susceptible children are to heatstroke. The first study, completed in 2001, revealed that a child left in a hot, closed vehicle in dry heat can face serious risk of injury or death in just minutes. The second study, released in early 2003, showed that when substituting humid heat for dry heat, injury or death can occur in half the time.

Previous research and real-world incidents have demonstrated that on a warm, sunny day, even at temperatures as mild as 60 degrees Fahrenheit, a closed vehicle can be lethal. Because a child’s body temperature increases three to five times faster than an adult’s and children are not able to dissipate heat as efficiently as adults, every minute counts when a child is trapped in a hot vehicle.

To help prevent more fatalities, GM and Safe Kids offer these tips:

  • Never leave a child unattended in a motor vehicle, even with a window slightly open.
    If you see a small child who is unattended in a motor vehicle and in need of help, contact emergency services. If you are in an OnStar-equipped vehicle, simply push the red emergency OnStar button. You will be quickly connected with an OnStar emergency services advisor who will expedite the call to public safety.

  • Always lock your vehicle – especially at home – and keep keys out of children’s reach.
  • Make sure all children leave the vehicle upon arrival at a destination. Be especially careful if transporting children on a specific day or time is not part of your normal routine. In the case of infants that may be sleeping, get into the habit of placing your purse or briefcase on the floor of the rear seat near where the child is seated to make sure you have to go into the rear seat before leaving the vehicle.
  • Teach children not to play in, on or around vehicles.
  • Watch children closely around vehicles, especially when loading and unloading.

GM and Safe Kids are distributing free brochures in English and Spanish that include safety tips and information about the dangers of leaving children unattended in vehicles. Download the brochure from the GMability and SAFE KIDS web sites.

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