It Can Happen to Anyone: Dozens of Children Die Every Year in Hot Cars

On average, 37 kids die in hot cars every year in the United States, according to San Jose State University's Jan Null.

Incidents peak between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when between two and three kids die each week. In 2017, about 1 1/4 times as many children died in hot cars (42) as all individuals who died in tornadoes across the country (35).

Null, a certified consulting meteorologist, has been tracking U.S. child vehicular heatstroke deaths since 1998. His research indicates more than half of kids die after a parent or guardian forgets them in a vehicle. This can happen to anyone at any time.

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, parents often are stressed. Often, tragedies occur when schedules and routines are broken.

Null analyzes media reports and details the circumstances surrounding each case through, a program supported by the National Safety Council. In cases of heatstroke deaths, his findings show:

  • 87% of children who die are 3 years old or younger
  • 54% are forgotten in a vehicle
  • 27% are playing in an unattended vehicle
  • 18% are intentionally left in a vehicle by an adult

In April 2017, a 1-year-old boy died after being left in a pickup truck. At that time, the temperature in Vestavia, AL, was just 68 degrees. What many don't know is cars and trucks heat up rapidly even on milder days and no matter the time of year.

The temperature inside a vehicle can rise by nearly 20 degrees in 10 minutes. Heatstroke occurs when a person's core body temperature rises to 104 degrees, according to research from Mayo Clinic.  A temperature of 107 degrees could result in irreversible organ damage or even death.

Young children are at risk because their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult's, according to a journal report from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

What You Can Do

To prevent tragedies, Safe Kids Worldwide produced an ACT Now Toolkit that includes a printable tip sheet: Everything you need to know to keep your kids safe from heatstroke. Here are five recommendations:

  • Never leave your child alone in a car, not even for a minute
  • Keep your car locked when you are not in it so kids don't gain access
  • Create reminders by putting something in the back seat next to your child, such as a briefcase, purse, cell phone or your left shoe
  • If you see a child alone in a car, call 911
  • Set a calendar reminder on your electronic device to make sure you dropped your child off at daycare; develop a plan so you will be alerted if your child is late or a no-show

Technology Can be Part of the Solution

NSC backs efforts to use technology to prevent children from being forgotten in vehicles. Without offering an endorsement of any vehicle or product, NSC provides the following information to help parents and guardians protect their most precious cargo:

  • Rear Seat Reminder: If a rear door is opened and closed within 10 minutes before the vehicle is started, or is opened and closed while the vehicle is running, five chimes will sound and a message will display on the instrument panel when the vehicle shuts off to remind the driver to check the rear seat. This technology is available on several 2017 GM vehicles.
  • Car Seat Technology: This technology generates a series of tones activated through a "smart" chest clip and wireless receiver to remind the driver that a child is in the rear seat within two seconds of turning off the vehicle.

A Needless Risk

Hold On to Dear Life is a campaign of Primary Children's Hospital.

A Promise to Payton

Learn about one father's experience and what he is doing to raise awareness about the dangers of leaving kids in hot cars. Then, test yourself. Take the quiz: How Much Do You Know About Preventing Child Heatstroke?

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