Kids in hot cars are a deadly combination. AAA Kansas offers safety tips to avoid tragedy.

TOPEKA - So far this year, 12 children in the United States have died of heatstroke after they were left in hot vehicles. To stop the deadly outcome of vehicular hyperthermia among the most vulnerable passengers, members of the U.S. Congress recently introduced a new bill, the HOT CARS Act of 2017, which would require automakers to equip their vehicles with an alert system designed to warn the driver if a child is left in the back seat.

In shocking news headlines, a mother was arrested last week after she allegedly left two toddlers to die in a hot car in Texas. Police officials said the teen mother intentionally left the girls, her 1-year-old and 2-year-old daughters, in the vehicle for more than 15 hours. Unintentionally or intentionally, as many as 40 children - one child every nine days - die in hot cars each year, on average. Children are more vulnerable to heatstroke than adults, and area parents and guardians are urged to “look before you lock.”

Similar legislation was introduced last year. Oddly enough, Congress failed to pass H.R. 6041, the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act or the HOT CARS Act of 2016. Like last year’s bill, The HOT CARS Act of 2017 would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue a “final rule requiring cars to be equipped with a system to alert the driver if a passenger remains in the back seat when a car is turned off.” Until then, you can create an alarm or reminder on your watch or smart phone to make sure you dropped your child off at daycare, advises AAA Kansas. As an object lesson, simply leave something needed for the day in the back seat with your baby – a briefcase, purse or your day’s shoes.

“We don't promote leaving items loose in a vehicle that could become a flying projectile, but leaving an item in the backseat that we will need can force us to check the backseat,” said Trooper Chad Crittenden of the Kansas Highway Patrol. “Removing a child's shoe or small item and putting it on a purse or passenger seat can remind us of the occupants in the back. Or it could be as simple as putting a post-it note on the steering wheel or dash board.”

AAA Kansas urges drivers to make it a routine to look and check the back seat for children before you leave the car. According to national data, about 51 percent of child hot car deaths in vehicles were caused by adults forgetting the children, and 29 percent of victims were playing in an unattended vehicle, as studies in some states have shown. Parents should teach children that a car is not a play area. Always keep doors and windows locked to prevent kids from playing inside a vehicle.

In the past two decades, 712 children left in vehicles have died of heatstroke, hyperthermia, or other complications. A momentary lapse can cause a senseless tragedy that unfolds in a matter of minutes. It only takes 10 minutes for a car’s temperature to rise over 20 degrees even if it isn’t an unseasonably warm day. “This means that on an 80 degree day the inside of the vehicle will reach 100 degrees in the time it takes to read a book or sing a few songs with the children,” child safety advocates explain. “Cracking a window has little effect.”

In fact, heatstroke can happen on cloudy days and in outside temperatures below 70 degrees. Children overheat up to five times faster than adults, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). A child dies when his/her body temperature reaches 107 degrees Fahrenheit. It underscores the fact that for safety’s sake, children may never be left alone in a vehicle.

Tragically, a five-year-old boy perished this week after reportedly being left alone in a hot vehicle operated by a day care center in Arkansas. The child was reportedly left in the van for hours as the heat index reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit in West Memphis, Arkansas.

AAA Kansas urges schools, camps, churches, daycare/child care centers, sports leagues and other organizations that transport children in vans, buses or other vehicles to have a process in place to make sure that every child leaves the vehicle after you arrive at your destination. They are encouraged to “first, develop and practice a routine that is used every time they transport children. This system should be in writing, shared, and used by everyone who is involved in transporting children, including the director, driver, and any other employees riding in the vehicle or assisting the children when exiting.” Other important tips include:

* Use the list of children to verify each child by name.

* Walk and check the inside of the vehicle, both in and under each seat.

* Have a second person check the vehicle.

* Have a visual reminder such as a sticker, keychain, or hangtag that helps you do the walk-through.

If you are a parent of a small child, toddler or a newborn, develop a daycare drop-off plan so that if your child is late, or isn’t at daycare, you’ll be called by the day center staff within a few minutes, advises AAA Kansas. Some children have been left in office parking lots by distracted adults forgetting to drop them off at day care. “The children that have died from vehicular heatstroke in the United States (1998-October 2016) have ranged in age from 5 days to 14 years,” explains NoHeatStroke.org. “More than half of the deaths are children under 2 years of age.” Do not let kids play in an unattended vehicle. Area law enforcement agencies and safety advocates, including AAA Kansas, are encouraging parents and caregivers to:

* NEVER leave a child in a vehicle unattended.

* Make it a habit to look in the back seat EVERY time you exit the car.

* ALWAYS lock the car and put the keys out of reach.

* If someone else is driving your child, or your daily routine has been altered, always check to make sure your child has arrived safely.

* Keep a stuffed animal or other memento in your child’s car seat when it’s empty, and move it to the front seat as a visual reminder when your child is in the back seat.

* If you ever see a child left alone in a hot vehicle, call 911 right away.

* If the child is not responsive or is in distress, immediately call 911, get the child out of the car, and spray the child with cool water (not in an ice bath).

“If you see a child alone in a car, don’t worry about getting involved in someone else’s business—protecting children is everyone’s business,” advises NHTSA. “Besides, ‘Good Samaritan’ laws offer legal protection for those who offer assistance in an emergency.”