With children getting set to return to school, summer is nearing its end.
However, the summer heat-safety awareness season is still in full force, and so far this year, the local results have been mixed.
There have been no vehicular-hyperthermia deaths in Arizona this year, after three in 2010. But 13 children have died in water-related incidents in Maricopa County, a “troubling” number, said Tiffaney Isaacson, water safety coordinator for Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
There were 20 child drownings in the county last year. That number has been steadily rising since the all-time low of 10 in 2006, Isaacson said.
“I don’t think we can deny that a factor is the change in the economy,” Isaacson said. “If you have less money to pay for swimming lessons, to repair the pool fence, to have good child care, you are not able to do the things needed to keep children safe. There are things you can do to protect the children that don’t cost anything, such as making sure someone – someone who can swim – is always designated to watch kids in the pool.”
August, she said, typically is the highest-risk month for child drownings, due to the monsoon humidity and parents preoccupied with the imminent start of school.
“Children really want to be in the pool,” Isaacson said. “If you have children in school, August is hectic. You feel off-kilter, and that is a distraction. When we look at the year, it’s almost as if we can look at a crystal ball and see that it’s hot, and parents are distracted. That’s a bad combination.”
Five children drowned in Maricopa County in August 2010.
With documented heat-related car deaths in temperatures as low as 65 degrees, vehicular-hyperthermia safety season in Arizona never ends. Nationwide, there have been 21 deaths this year, but Jan Null, a San Francisco State University meteorologist, said that two deaths are awaiting final findings and will likely be ruled hyperthermia-caused.
Still, the pace is behind last year’s figure of 49, which was above the national average of 38 annually since 1998. Considering the heat wave that has embroiled much of the eastern U.S., the death tally could be higher, Null said.
“It has been an extremely hot year in the East, especially in the last 10 days,” Null said on Thursday. “And there have been no deaths in the last 10 days. Is that because people are more aware of the heat, especially in regions that are (typically) not as hot as Arizona? We don’t know. It’s certainly a question we’d like to know more about.”
Null recently attended a roundtable hosted by the National highway Traffic Safety Administration in Washington. “All of the big players,” Null said, were there – NHTSA administrator David Strickland, auto-industry representatives and child-safety advocates, focused on finding ways to limit such deaths.
“Hyperthermia is a serious threat that needs to be better addressed immediately,” Strickland said in a statement. “A coordinated, targeted approach on increasing public awareness of this very serious safety danger should help prevent unnecessary tragedies and near-misses moving forward.”
While automakers can develop technology to help keep in-car temperatures lower, Null said, the best prevention still is awareness.
“Leaving children in cars should be a zero-tolerance thing, no matter what time of year,” Null said.
The same is true for child drownings, Isaacson said. Though the total number of deaths in Maricopa County have gone up, the per-capita rate has declined since 2001. That is proof, she said, of the efficacy of ventures like Drowning Impact Awareness Month, which is in August.
“We are making a difference,” Isaacson said. “On the difficult days, when I’ve heard of another drowning, or I have to talk to a devastated parent, I keep a chart in mind that shows the per-capita (drowning) rate. From 2006-present, even though we’re losing too many children, we’re still at the lowest (per-capita) levels on record. That’s because of sophisticated programming.”