By: County Commissioner Robert Weinroth, Dist. 4 Special to the Boca Newspaper
Many of us look upon life in South Florida as something akin to living in paradise. Outside of an occasional hurricane, the weather here is pretty spectacular. For visitors or newly arrived transplants, the summer heat and humidity can be a bit daunting. However, many of us adapt to the tropical temperatures and air conditioning is pretty universal (even in classrooms and school buses, something we did not enjoy in the northeast when I was a public-school student).
But our tropical temperatures are not without their dangers. Every summer the news is replete with heartbreaking stories of children (and pets) left in hot vehicles. Most of the time, the result is death as the vehicle temperature quickly exceeds their ability to cope.
Since 1990, over 900 children have died in hot cars in the United States or an average of around 40 every year! A car can heat up 19 degrees in 10 minutes and 43 degrees in an hour, according to heatstroke experts.
Children’s bodies heat up much faster than adults, according to the National Safety Council. Their internal organs begin to shut down once their core body temperature reaches 104 degrees.
In a report released by the Council last year, it was noted that it takes very little time for a car to get too hot for children. On an 86-degree day, it would take only about 10 minutes for the inside of a car to reach a dangerous 105 degrees.
The law in Florida regarding “parents” and “caretakers” who leave their child in an automobile is as follows:
“A parent, legal guardian, or any other person responsible for a child, younger than 6 years of age, may not leave the child unattended or unsupervised in a motor vehicle, for a period in excess of 15 minutes.”
While organizations such as KidsAndCars.org are working to get Congress to require all new passenger motor vehicles to include child safety alarms, the ultimate responsibility for protecting the safety of children occupying a motor vehicle fall squarely on the shoulders of the driver.
Just as ensuring the children a properly restrained when the vehicle is in motion, it is incumbent upon a vehicle operator to ensure the children’s safety even after being safely parked.
KidsAndCars.org has been lobbying Congress since 2003 to require cars have an audio and visual alert that could be combined with a vibrating warning that would activate when the engine was shut off.
Hyundai says the company will do its part by voluntarily making its Rear Occupant Alert (ROA) door-logic system standard on most of its new vehicles by 2022.Several other vehicle manufacturers are following suit.
The ultimate objective of the alert systems is to remind the driver to look before locking the vehicle. A hot car tragedy can happen to anyone.
The University of South Florida has undertaken a study of the neurobiology of “Forgotten Baby Syndrome,” to understand how caring parents can, quite literally, forget their children in a parked car.
Not surprisingly, researchers concluded the syndrome was due to a failure of the memory system. They differentiated “prospective memory,” (involved in the intent to remember to complete tasks out of your ordinary routine) with “habit memory,” (which is similar to operating on autopilot).
When prospective memory fails, habit takes over with tragic results. But there are steps a driver can take to protect their precious cargo.
KidsAndCars.org recommends making a habit of always opening the back door when parked, placing an essential item such as a purse or shoe in the back seat with your child and asking a care provider to contact you if your child is not on time.
Systems are already on the market, which will warn a driver of a possible person in the rear set if the rear doors were open at the beginning of the trip.
Another suggestion for avoiding a tragic incident is to keep the family car locked at all times so children cannot enter on their own, teaching children to honk the car horn if they are locked in and never leaving car keys within a child’s reach.
Always keep cars locked even if you don’t have children.
Always keep keys out of children’s reach.
Place an item you can’t start the day without in the backseat.
If a child goes missing, check the inside and trunk of all cars in the area immediately.
Teach children to honk the horn if they get stuck
If you see a child or animal alone in a car and in obvious distress, do something. They need to be removed from the danger. Florida protects a person acting to aid a child or animal in distress even if it means breaking into the vehicle.
The only thing more tragic than a child or animal dying in a hot car is knowing action could have prevented a tragedy. Let’s enjoy our slice of paradise safely!