June is National Safety Month, and local law enforcement and animal officials are encouraging residents to always check their vehicle before they exit so they don’t leave their children or pets behind.
In 2018, 52 children died in hot cars, according to the National Safety Council. Since 1998, about 800 children have died from vehicular heatstroke, with 24 percent occurring in employer parking lots while the parent/caregiver was at work.
NSC is a nonprofit, public service organization that promotes health and safety in the United States.
“Even one child dying in a hot car is too many,” NSC Senior Advocacy Program Manager Amy Artuso said. “The good news is that parents and caregivers can act immediately to end these preventable deaths.”
According to the NSC and noheatstroke.org, there are three primary circumstances resulting in deaths of children in hot cars:
• A caregiver forgets a child is in the vehicle. NSC officials advise parents/caregivers to avoid distractions — such as cellphone use — when driving and parking to reduce the risk of forgetting a child in the car.
• The child gaining access to the vehicle. Keep car doors locked so children can’t gain access and teach them that cars are not play areas. Children should never be able to access a vehicle on their own.
• Someone knowingly leaving a child in a vehicle. There is so safe amount of time to leave a child in a vehicle, even if you’re running a quick errand.
Cleburne Police Sgt. Kelly Summey said it should go without saying that nobody should leave children or pets in a car at any time, especially during the summer months.
“In Texas, temperatures outside soar quickly, and with that so do the temperatures inside the vehicle, sometimes as much as 50 degrees or more,” Summey said. “Infants cannot regulate their body temperatures like adults, but even adults cannot withstand that type of heat. There are many viral videos of professionals demonstrating the temperatures inside cars and what it does to the human body.”
There is new technology available to notify parents, babysitters or caregivers of children left in vehicles from car seats that sent messages to smartphones to vehicles that notify you if the back door hasn’t been opened, she said.
“Deaths associated with children left in cars has become far too common and quite disturbing,” she said. “Our society has become too busy, and we are always in a hurry.
“Sometimes the best advice is to just take a breath and relax and try to think about everyone — and everything — you need to care for.”
The Texas Penal Code defines manslaughter as recklessly causing the death of an individual, she said.
“Not only would a person have to cope with the horrible loss of a loved one, but criminal charges could also be possible,” she said. “If you are the parent, caretaker [or] babysitter of a child, it is always best to check your back seat once, twice, three times. Take the time.”
Leaving pets in vehicles can be dangerous too, Cleburne Animal Services Director Mindy Henry said.
“Cars can turn into saunas faster than people think,” Henry said. “On a nice, sunny, 75-degree day, the inside temperature of a car can reach over 100 degrees in as little as 15 minutes. In the Texas summer, your car can be hotter than 120 degrees in just a few minutes.
“Even cracking a window has very little effect on the inside temperature. Dogs can suffer from heat exhaustion, heat stroke and death if left alone in a vehicle in the summer heat.”
If you can’t stand to sit in your car without the air conditioner on for more than a few minutes, imagine what your pet will feel like, she said.
“The best advice is to leave your pet at home,” she said. “If you absolutely must take them with you, then plan on only going to places where you can take your furry pal inside with you. If not, then plan on only going where Fido needs to go that day.
“Even 10 minutes can cost certain dogs — pugs, bulldogs, overweight, young or seniors — their life. Most cities, including Cleburne, have ordinances that prohibit leaving animals unattended in vehicles for longer than five minutes.”