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A matter of minutes is all it takes for a child to die

Live from City Hall

Posted: July 26, 2008 11:58 p.m.
Updated: September 27, 2008 5:03 a.m.
Residents of our Golden State know that when the summer months arrive, temperatures can easily exceed 100 degrees. The hot summer days can literally bake vehicles sitting in the sun.

Tragically, though most people have first-hand experience of just how hot the inside of a vehicle can become when in the sun, there are still incidences in which children and animals are left in vehicles in the heat.

In a mere 10 minutes, the temperature inside a vehicle can rise 19 degrees. Temperatures can rapidly climb from there, and after an hour, the interior can become 43 degrees hotter than outside. That means that if it is 98 degrees outside, it can get to 141 degrees Fahrenheit inside the vehicle.

Last week our community experienced the tragic loss of a child as a result of being left in a vehicle. Our community mourns this loss, and the city is committed to educating residents about the dangers associated with leaving a child unattended in a vehicle.

The city of Santa Clarita, along with the Child Care Resource Center, have joined together to promote the message that a “Matter of Minutes” is all it takes for a tragedy to occur.

Children should never be left alone in a vehicle; it is not only illegal, but it can also result in heat stroke, death and even possible abduction. With the goal of educating residents about the seriousness of this issue, the city and the Child Care Resource Center hosted a news conference and public awareness event.

Mayor Bob Kellar and Assemblyman  Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, together with representatives from the resource center’s “Matter of Minutes” public awareness campaign, joined together at the news conference to provide demonstrations on the risks of backing over an unseen child, the dangers of leaving a child alone in a car seat, and the injuries that can result when a child is left alone in a car on a hot day.

The message being communicated by these agencies is that a child should never be left unattended in a vehicle, not even for a minute. It is important to “look before you leave,” a good habit before exiting your vehicle. Parents are also encouraged to leave a visual reminder of their children by the driver’s seat, to ensure they are not forgotten.

Under California Vehicle Code 15620, a parent, legal guardian, or other person responsible for a child may not leave them unsupervised in a vehicle if there are conditions that present a significant risk to the child’s health or safety, or when the vehicle’s engine is running or the vehicle’s keys are in the ignition, or both.

Currently, only 14 states have laws that prohibit leaving children unattended in vehicles. The remaining 36 states have no laws specific to these situations. Right now, nine states are proposing legislation to make leaving children unsupervised in a vehicle a crime.

There have been charges filed in 49 percent of previous cases in which deaths were a result of the children being left in a vehicle by a parent or guardian. A total of about 81 percent of those cases resulted in a conviction. In cases with paid caregivers, 84 percent are charged, and a substantial 96 percent are convicted.

In 2008 alone, there have been at least 19 deaths of infants and children in the United States as a result of being left alone in a hot vehicle.

Last year there were a total of at least 35 such fatalities in the United States due to hyperthermia after they were left in a vehicle. In the end, as is reported, every year in dramatically increasing numbers, that unimaginable tragedy can and does occur.

Bob Kellar is mayor of Santa Clarita; Capt. Anthony LaBerge is captain of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station. Their column represents their own views, not necessarily those of The Signal. “Live from City Hall” is a column provided to The Signal by the city of Santa Clarita.


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