Program warns of hot car dangers

Published 7:16 pm Friday, July 9, 2010

Recent tragedies in Alabama involving children being left in cars during the blistering Southern heat have inspired efforts to rid the state of the problem.

The Alabama Department of Child Abuse Prevention currently has a campaign to alert people not to leave children vehicles no matter how soon they intend to return. The program is distributing information across the state that emphasizes the number of annual deaths due to hypothermia and hyperthermia.

ADCAP director Kelley Parris-Barnes said people should focus on children, the elderly and individuals with intellectual disabilities regardless of their age. She also identified animals as victims.

She said the temperature in an enclosed vehicle rises up to 20 degrees within five minutes. Within 30 minutes, the heat increases as much as 40 degrees.

Parris-Barnes said babies and small children have a very immature respiratory system and do not have the same ability to withstand heat as adults do. Their organs shut down faster causing dehydration to set in rapidly, which can lead to death.

To keep children safe, the ADCAP urges keeping car doors locked at all times, especially when left in the driveway or garage.

As for reasons drivers tend to neglect children and leave them in cars, Parris-Barnes said that decision is actually conscious decision made to put them in a dangerous environment.

“Some of it is convenience,” she said. “Historically, some cases have been issues surrounding addiction. I used to live in New York, where there were always children found in cars that were parked at bars in the summertime.”

Parris-Barnes said people should quickly call 911 if they see a child left alone in a car.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that it is considered child endangerment,” she said. “These are preventable deaths. When we talk about stopping abuse and neglect, we know that we’re never going to completely rid ourselves of it. But there should never be a child die from overheating in a car.”

The same rules apply to animals, which also often find themselves neglected inside hot cars.

Chilton County Humane Society director Joe Murphy said pet owners should keep their animals out of the sun at all times, regardless. If owners must confine their dogs to outside yards, Murphy suggests placing them in areas with plenty of shade and even baby pools with cool water. If possible, he insists owners allow their dogs to stay in garages, basements or inside the house.

“That’s what I do with my dogs,” he said. “They’re inside. I let them out before I go to work and when I get home. Larger breeds can do fine inside the house.”

Murphy said he doesn’t think he will ever convince every owner to keep their dogs inside and out of the heat and cold. Some with larger dogs have no choice. If that is the case, Murphy said to make sure their water bowls or buckets are secure so the dog cannot tip it over, which he said happens quite often.

With cars, Murphy said he sees and hears about it with some regularity.

“It goes on everywhere,” he said. “People think it’ll be OK if they leave them in cars, but I think it’s horrible. It constitutes cruelty to animals. You’re denying them necessary sustenance and shelter. Basically, you’re putting them in an oven.”

If you suspect child abuse or neglect, call 911 or the ADCAP at (334) 242-5710.


When a child is missing, check vehicles and car trunks immediately.

Make sure all child passengers have left the vehicle after it is parked.

Put something you’ll need like your cell phone, handbag, employee badge, lunch or brief case on the floor board in the back seat.

Get in the habit of always opening the back door of your vehicle every time you reach your destination to make sure no child has been left behind.

Use drive-thru services when available. (Restaurants, banks, pharmacies, dry cleaners)

If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately.

Use your debit or credit card to pay for gas at the pump.