Town police last week used an electronic display positioned along South Main Street at the Ram Pasture to drive home the message that motorists must make sure that they do not leave children unattended in motor vehicles in the summertime when temperatures inside vehicles can rise to lethal levels.
The large black electronic display, which is on loan from the state government, flashed sequential phrases that urged motorists to be aware of the problem.
The police public education campaign comes in the wake of a series of recent incidents in the state in which motorists left unattended children in vehicles in which temperatures rose to injurious levels.
On July 7 in Ridgefield, a 15-month-old boy died after his father left him unattended in a vehicle for an extended period.
Newtown School Resource Officer Leonard Penna said town police urge that parents not leave children unattended in vehicles no matter what the temperature.
Leaving children unattended in vehicles amid mild temperatures even may prove fatal, Officer Penna said in a statement.
Temperatures within vehicles in the summer are markedly higher than temperatures outdoors, he noted.
Children who are left inside vehicles, even when the outdoor temperature is 70 degrees, are at a risk of developing heat stroke, dehydration, seizures, strokes, or even dying, he said.
Also, children left unattended in vehicles may be harmed by factors other than temperature, according to police.
Lieutenant J. Paul Vance, state police spokesman, said that children should never be left in locked vehicles by motorists, and children should never have access to unlocked, parked vehicles or to automobile trunks.
In 2013, 44 children died nationwide due to automotive heat-related deaths, he said. Since 1998, more than 500 children have died from hypothermia after being inside hot autos, he said. The statistics include children who were left unattended and also children who entered parked vehicles to play.
Under state law, leaving a child unsupervised in an auto may result in a felony charge, Lt Vance said.
The lieutenant urges that motorists keep their vehicles locked and never let children play in cars. He urges that motorists make a habit of looking at the front seats and back seats of vehicles before locking them and walking away.
Lt Vance urges people who see a child left unattended in a vehicle, especially on a hot day, to call 911 to report it to police as an emergency situation.