Awareness campaign aims to reduce child car deaths

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As dangerously hot weather moved into Wilson this week, officials say now is a good time to remind parents and caregivers that leaving kids alone in cars is dangerous.

Cars and hot summer days are potentially a deadly combination, officials say. That’s why children should never be left alone in a car, not even for a minute.

The Wilson Community Child Protection and Child Fatality Prevention teams have joined together with additional community partners to launch a “Look Before You Lock” awareness campaign targeted to prevent hot car deaths of children. The Wilson County Department of Social Services received a $1,000 grant from Walmart to purchase window clings to place in vehicles as a way to help parents, grandparents and caregivers remember to always check the backseat before they lock their car and walk away.

Participating agencies will also be sharing messages on social media to educate the public.

The idea was born after the teams had a discussion a year ago about risk factors associated with child deaths.

“It was a shock for many of us to learn that North Carolina ranked sixth in the nation for heatstroke deaths in cars with young children,” said Candice Rountree, chairwoman of Wilson’s Community Child Protective Team. “It’s really had to wrap your mind around, but the data is there that shows North Carolina has a problem with this issue.”

So far this year, 16 children have died across the country as a result of vehicular heatstroke, including a 7-month-old in Raleigh.

On Thursday, multiple agencies signed a pledge to bring awareness to the issue around Wilson. Officials have enlisted several partners, including three churches who will also be distributing window clings and information regarding the “Look Before Your Lock” campaign.

“We are so grateful to our local Walmart for this grant,” said Glenn Osborne, Wilson County DSS director. “Hopefully these window clings will help to spread the message that hot car deaths are a tragedy we can prevent in our community.”


In the span of 10 minutes, a car can heat up by 20 degrees, enough to kill a child left alone in a car. Cracking a window doesn’t help either, officials say. A child’s body heat can rise three to five times faster than adult’s. The children most at risk are those under 1 year old, accounting for up to 32 percent of heatstroke deaths.

Since 1990, 836 children suffered heatstroke-related deaths from being left in hot cars in the United States; 33 of those children died in North Carolina, according to KidsAndCars.org, a child safety organization dedicated to preventing injuries and deaths of children in and around vehicles.

Every year on average, 37 children die in hot cars across the country. Last year alone, 43 children died in the U.S., compared to 39 in 2016, according to the organization’s figures.

• In 54 percent of cases, the child was forgotten by the caregiver

• In 28 percent of cases, children got into the vehicles on their own

• In 17 percent of cases, children were intentionally left inside the car

Many question how parents and caregivers could forget their child is inside the car. But the No. 1 culprit could be a change in routine, officials say.

With summer here and kids out of school, families have different schedules. Officials say it can happen to anyone. While many cases are related to parents accidentally leaving their children in hot cars, others may believe a quick stop at a gas station or to run in somewhere to pay a bill is OK. Safety officials say those split-second decisions could be a matter of life or death for a child.