HOPEWELL — On average, 37 children in the United States die each year from vehicular heat stroke after being left unattended in a car.
Ontario County’s public health director said in more than half those cases, a loving parent unknowingly left their child behind while going to work or shopping.
“Factors like a change in routine, lack of sleep, fatigue and distraction all play a role in vehicular heat stroke deaths,” Mary Beer said. “The message is that people are just so busy these days. They could be the most fantastic person in the world, but one break in their routine could be enough for them to forget about their child.”
With that in mind, Beer and other public health and safety officials are reminding people of the catchphrase “Look Before You Lock!” Beer and Ontario County Sheriff Phil Povero said children have died in a car when the temperature outside is as low as 60 degrees.
“The important thing to remember is even if the windows are left ajar, in direct sunlight the temperature inside a car will increase dramatically and quickly,” Povero said. “That is true particularly at this time of year.”
In the “Look Before You Lock!” campaign, public health officials are encouraging parents to check the back seat for a child every time they get out of their vehicle. They also recommend the following steps:
• Ask your child care provider to call if your child doesn’t show up as planned.
• Always keep cars locked and the keys out of the reach of children.
• If a child is missing, quickly check your car.
• A car is not a babysitter. Never leave a child alone in a vehicle — not even for a minute.
While instances of children being left in cars in the Finger Lakes are rare, it does happen. Just last week, a Geneva man was charged with endangering the welfare of a child after he allegedly left his 8-month-old son unattended in his vehicle for about 35 minutes at Walmart.
Beer said people who see a child alone in a hot car should be prepared to act.
“The difference between life or death is minutes in a hot car. If you see a child alone in a vehicle, get involved, call 911 and save a life,” she said. “It must be the worst thing in the world for a parent to lose a child like that, especially when it’s unintended. Then again, I have seen on the news where children are left in the vehicle on purpose while the parent goes gambling. That is even more tragic.”
People are asked to help Ontario County Public Health spread the word on this issue by using the hashtags #heatstrokekills and #lookbeforeyoulock on social media.