Look before you lock.
It’s a simple concept that could save countless lives this summer.
“Make it a habit to open the back door of your car and check the back seat,” said Amber Rollins, director of KidsAndCars.org, a national nonprofit based in Olathe, dedicated to keeping children safe inside and around vehicles.
Rollins wants drivers to check their back seats to make sure they haven’t left anyone behind when they park the car, whether they’re leaving for an eight-hour work day or stopping for a quick cup of coffee.
“It is never safe to leave children alone in a car -- not even for a minute,” Rollins said.
Temperatures inside a car can quickly become deadly.
Every year across the country, at least 38 children die in hot cars, Rollins said.
So far this summer, nearly 20 deaths have been recorded nationwide. Among them are a 3-month-old girl in Kansas and an 11-month-old girl in Missouri. In 2018, a record number of 52 children died, including two in Clay County, Mo.
Yet, such deaths can be prevented, Rollins said.
Currently, education is the best way to reduce child heatstroke deaths in vehicles.
KidsAndCars.org works to make parents and other caregivers aware of the dangers of hot cars and the simple steps they can take to make sure children are safe.
Those steps can be as easy as always checking the back seat or asking a daycare provider to call a parent immediately if a child has not shown up as scheduled. Steps like these are included on a safety checklist that Rollins urges parents to follow every day.
In almost every hot-car death, “there was some kind of change in the routine -- a detour, a phone call, running late for work,” Rollins said. “People don’t think of these as risk factors but when their routine is out of whack, parents are most vulnerable” to leaving a child in a car inadvertently.
In the future, legislation may be the best way to reduce hot-car deaths.
Important bills are now being considered in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate that could substantially reduce the number of deaths, the Hot Cars Act.
The act would require vehicles to be equipped with a detection and alert system to remind drivers of a child in the back seat.
“We’ve been trying to get a driver-reminder bill passed for 15 years,” said Janette Fennell, who founded KidsAndCars.org in 2003.
The bill would require new cars to be equipped with the technology to warn drivers in much the same way cars now alert drivers to keys left in the ignition.
Fennell knows firsthand the difference such legislation can make.
She founded TRUNC, Trunk Releases Urgently Needed Coalition, in San Francisco after she and her husband were kidnapped at gunpoint and forced into the trunk of their car in 1995.
The coalition campaigned for mandatory glow-in-the-dark internal trunk releases. The releases became law in September of 2001 for cars manufactured in the United States.
While working on the trunk release legislation, Fennell often was contacted about hot car deaths, power window strangulations and other incidents involving the interior of a vehicle.
During her research, Fennell discovered that vehicles are the No. 1 killer of children in the United States and Fennell founded KidsAndCars.org.
Whitney Rodden of Spring Hill is a parent advocate who volunteers to help with safety presentations for KidsAndCars.org.
Rodden speaks as a mother who lost a child to one of the many dangers the nonprofit warns about: front rollovers.
In July of 2016, Rodden’s 14-month-old daughter, Harper, was killed in a rollover by a driver at a daycare.
“The driver couldn’t see Harper,” Rodden said.
Checking both the interior and exterior of a car will help keep children safe.
“The biggest mistake anyone could ever make is to think a tragedy like this couldn’t happen in your family,” Fennell said. “If you think that way, then you won’t follow the safety tips.”
Observing the safety tips every day until they become a habit helps keep a child safe. Even when harried parents are distracted or their routine is disrupted, they’ll automatically look before they lock.