May 17, 2002


Heat-related child deaths remain disturbingly high

Washington, D.C. – Despite annual warnings to parents and caregivers that leaving kids unattended in hot cars can have tragic consequences, at least 30 more children died last year of hyperthermia, a potentially deadly heat-related illness. On the heels of these deaths, a new poll by the National SAFE KIDS Campaign and General Motors finds that while more adults overall are becoming aware of the dangers of leaving children unattended in or around a motor vehicle, one in five young parents believes it is acceptable to leave kids alone.

“Every time another child dies in a hot car, my heart aches,” said Michelle Puckett, who, with her husband, William, joined SAFE KIDS and GM in Thursday’s announcement. The Pucketts, of Winchester, Kentucky, lost their infant son Bryan in 1999 when their baby-sitter, a registered nurse, left him in a hot car while she shopped. GM researchers have identified at least 150 children who have died since 1996 in all regions of the country as the result of being left or trapped in a hot, parked vehicle. Many of these children were in car seats and left behind or forgotten by an adult, while others gained access to an unlocked car and could not get out.

The SAFE KIDS-GM survey, conducted in April, revealed that overall, nine percent of parents believe it is OK to leave young children unattended in a vehicle. Among parents age 18-24, that figure is double. Those findings are relatively unchanged from an identical survey conducted in 1999.

The poll also revealed that while more parents are locking their vehicles at home (58 percent vs. 50 percent in 1999), one in five parents rarely or never locks their vehicle, the same number reported three years ago.

The good news is that the number of adults polled who said that it is never acceptable to leave a child unattended in a vehicle increased significantly, from 75 percent in 1999 to 87 percent this year. The survey was conducted by Roper ASW and based on interviews with 700 families with children under age 18. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percent.

On a warm, sunny day, even at temperatures as mild as 60 degrees Fahrenheit, a closed vehicle can heat up to dangerous levels in minutes, and children left in this environment can face serious injury or even death. Because heat affects children more quickly and severely than adults, they are especially vulnerable, according to research that GM Canada commissioned last year.

“No parent deliberately exposes their child to what becomes an oven-like temperature. The price they pay for this ignorance and absentmindedness is unimaginable,” said Heather Paul, Ph.D., executive director of SAFE KIDS. “Our job is to convince parents that kids, cars and heat are a deadly combination.”

Elizabeth A. Lowery, GM vice president, environment and energy, agreed. “While these survey numbers are an encouraging start, we have more work to do. GM is looking at technology as a possible solution to these tragedies. However, because this technology is in development and won’t be ready until the middle of the decade, we need to get across the message that it is never acceptable to leave a young child unattended in or around a motor vehicle. Also, parents and caregivers should lock their vehicles at all times — even in the driveway or garage — and keep the key in a secure place.”

The SAFE KIDS-GM “Never Leave Your Child Alone” brochure includes safety tips and information about the dangers of leaving children unattended in vehicles. It is free and available through the more than 300 SAFE KIDS coalitions nationwide. Order additional brochures at 866-700-0001 (Press/choose option No. 2). Or, download the brochure from the GMability and SAFE KIDS web sites, www.gmability.com and www.safekids.org.

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