x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Toddler, 2, dies after suffocating in sweltering locked car

A two-year-old boy has suffocated after his parents left him in the car for almost four hours at their home in Kalba near Fujairah.

SHARJAH // A two-year-old boy died after being accidentally left in a car for almost four hours in outside temperatures of 42°C.

The tragedy happened on Saturday afternoon after a trip out from the Emirati family’s home in Kalba.

The toddler’s father and other relatives returned home at about 3pm and parked the car inside the garage, but forgot that the little boy was asleep in the back seat.

The family did not realise the child was missing until early evening. “They rushed back to the car and opened it, only to find he was dead,” a police spokesman said yesterday.

Officers say the death was a tragic accident and no crime was committed, but police and paediatricians issued renewed warnings that adults should never leave a child alone in a vehicle.

“Even for five to 10 minutes on a summer day, they might die,” said Dr Taisser Atrak, head of paediatrics at Mafraq Hospital.

Even in cooler weather the temperature inside a car rises rapidly, and children’s bodies cannot cope in the same way as adults, Dr Atrak said. “The sweating mechanism is not as mature.”

Without effective sweating to lower their body temperature, children overheat swiftly, Dr Atrak said. In 2005, American paediatricians found that even when the air temperature was only 22°C, the temperature inside a car rose to more than 47°C.

Dr Atrak used to work in Florida and has encountered such cases in the United States. About 600 children there died of “vehicular heat stroke” between 1990 and 2010, according to Kids and Cars, an organisation that monitors the issue.

Comparable statistics from the UAE are not available, but accounts suggest the problem also exists here, compounded by the desert climate.

A four-year-old girl died of heatstroke and dehydration after she was left on a school bus in Abu Dhabi in 2009. In 2010, Dubai Police rescue department received 85 calls about children stuck in hot cars, an average of about one every four days.

Dr Atrak’s hospital treats a few children each year for mild heatstroke after they were left in a car.

If anyone sees a child left in a car unattended, they should immediately call 999, Dr Atrak said.

“You could be saving a child’s life.”

Lt Col Faisal Al Shamari, director of the Ministry of Interior’s child protection centre, urged parents to be more aware of the risks and not to let their attention wander.

“You can forget eating a meal, you could forget doing certain things. But forgetting a child in a very high temperature in a car? That is something that … I don’t know what to call it,” he said.

The tragedy in Kalba is the latest example of a rare but fatal phenomenon that happens around the world, and inspired a communications engineer with Abu Dhabi Police to invent a child-safety device that could reduce the death toll.

Osama Ahmed Ismail’s invention, devised three years ago, links to a child’s car seat. If a parent forgets a child, the device alerts their mobile phone after three minutes.

In three more minutes, the device lowers the car’s windows by 5cm. If the parent still does not return in three more minutes, the air conditioning is turned on. If 12 minutes elapse, the device activates an alarm to alert passers by.

“There are too many accidents in the Gulf, especially in the UAE – and especially in Dubai,” Mr Ismail said.

He is awaiting approval from the Ministry of Economy to move forward with his idea. Several companies have expressed interest, including Babyshop and Volvo, he said.