DHEC urges the public to 'look before they lock' to prevent hot car deaths

·2 min read

Jul. 10—In the heat of summer, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control urges the public to remember the dangers of leaving a child in a car for any period of time.

In South Carolina, there have been 20 deaths in hot cars since 1998, according to DHEC. The most recent death was that of a 3-year-old boy in Spartanburg on June 30.

"Children are particularly vulnerable to hot car deaths because their ability to regulate their body temperature isn't fully developed and their body temperature warms three- to five-times faster than an adult's," according to DHEC.

Dr. Virginie Daguise, director of DHEC's Bureau of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention, said that temperatures inside a vehicle can reach life threatening levels even on mild or cloudy days.

"There is no safe amount of time to leave a child in a car, and it's unsafe to leave a child with the windows down," Daguise said.

The main circumstances that contribute to hot car deaths involving children include a caregiver forgetting a child in a vehicle, the child gaining access to the vehicle or someone knowingly leaving a child in a vehicle, according to DHEC.

The National Safety Council and DHEC recommend always looking in the back seat for a child before locking the car and leaving it parked.

"Anyone commuting, traveling or running an errand with a child in tow should be vigilant so the child, especially if he or she is sleeping, isn't accidentally left behind," Daguise said. "Try talking to the child or singing songs while you're riding so you're actively engaged with him or her, and find a creative trick that works for you that reminds you to 'look before you lock.'"

DHEC said pets should also not be left unattended in vehicles, regardless of whether the windows are open.

Capt. Eric Abdullah with the Aiken County Sheriff's Office said if anyone sees a child alone in an unattended vehicle, "they should immediately call 911 for assistance and try to keep an eye on the child inside. Stand by there until medical personnel and law enforcement arrive on scene."

When asked about breaking windows to free a child or pet, Abdullah said "each person needs to make that decision based on the circumstance they are dealing with, as well as if there is an emergency."

DHEC stated "if the child or pet appears to be in distress, attempt to enter the car to assist — even if that means breaking a window."

They cited South Carolina's "Good Samaritan" law that protects people from lawsuits for getting involved to help a person in an emergency.

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