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Children Alone in Cars Not Safe In Winter Either

December 15, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS - Most people have heard about the dangers of leaving children alone in a vehicle during the sweltering heat of summer, but winter's brutal cold also poses risks to children in and around cars. Dr. Andrew Kiragu, medical director of pediatric intensive care for Hennepin County Medical Center, says leaving kids by themselves in cars is never a good idea, even with the engine running and the heat on.

"There's the danger, particularly if the car is parked in a place where snow or ice is blocking the exhaust, where there might be a buildup of carbon monoxide within the car, which can put the child in serious danger."

Infants are at higher risk for cold-related injuries, explains Kiragu, because their ability to regulate body temperature has not developed like older children or adults. Their limited mobility also prevents them from escaping a locked car. Other injury risks include curious children who might put a car in gear, kids who climb out of the car alone, or abduction – because a child is in the vehicle when it is stolen.

Kiragu acknowledges that many such cases are unintentional. Parents simply forget: They've been distracted; they're dealing with hectic schedules or changes in their routine. To serve as a memory trigger, he suggests placing a necessary item for the day next to the child.

"If you have a purse or bag, have it in the backseat of the vehicle – so, if you have to leave the vehicle, you have to look back, so you see, 'Oh! Baby's still in the back.'"

In the last busy days of holiday shopping, lugging children in and out of the car can feel overwhelming. But Kiragu cautions adults to resist the temptation to leave youngsters alone, even to dash into a store for "just a second."

"The time that you spend away from the car is never as short as you think it really is, and even that small amount of time can put your child in danger."

With the recent major snowfall, Kiragu also urges drivers to be extra mindful of children in the street. Large snowdrifts can impair visibility, and icy roads can make reaction time and quick stops difficult.

Sharon Rolenc, Public News Service - MN