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Look Before You Leave: Kids, Cars and Summer Heat

Fifteen children have died this year alone after being left unattended in vehicles in the midst of summer heat. 32 children were lost last year. How does this happen?

I went to Wal-Mart yesterday and noticed a large sign at the entrance: “Look Before You Leave.” It was a reminder to parents to not forget and leave their children unattended in their cars. I thought the sign was ridiculous. How many parents forget their children?

I got home and, as I do everything, Googled it. I found story after story after story after story–all within the last month–of children dying from being left in a hot car. There’s even a website–kidsandcars.org–devoted entirely to this niche of heatstroke prevention.

I understand that in each of these situations, the parent is devastated at the loss of his or her child. It’s a pain I can’t bear to imagine. Do these parents deserve to be punished further by the legal system– is the prison of guilt and shame of losing a child from their own negligence enough or do these offenders deserve charges of involuntary manslaughter and child neglect?

It’s hard for me to come to terms with the legal ramifications of these tragedies. It’s harder still for me to understand how it happens. I’m guilty of forgetting my purse, my keys, my daughter’s diaper bag or bottles, my wallet, my phone–but never my daughter. Even when I’m stressed to the max and out of my regular routine–I’d never forget her.

I’ll go as far as saying that I understand briefly forgetting your child. We all make mistakes. But for hours? In the sweltering heat? How do you forget your own child?

I don’t mean to be overly judgmental; I’ve heard it said that you’d never expect something like this could happen to you–until it does. My heart aches for these families and their unfathomable losses.

But am I too crass in saying that I don’t remember these incidents happening with such frequency when I was a kid? If something like this happened in those days, it was NATIONAL news, not local news, not something that occurs so often that it’s only a story told in passing. Are we too distracted now with cellphones and smartphones and a million other things in our fast paced lives?

I think the graphs below speak for themselves.

Jan Null, CCM, Department of Geosciences, SFSU
Jan Null, CCM, Department of Geosciences, SFSU

Take a look at the images below from General Motors. They display how quickly the heat can rise in a vehicle in the hot summer sun. Within an hour, the temperature in a car can exceed ONE HUNDRED TWENTY DEGREES.

This summer, please remember to “Look Before You Leave.” Your children’s lives depend on it.

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