Summer is here, and recent high temperatures are a reminder to parents and caregivers to not leave children unattended in vehicles. Kids and hot cars can be a deadly combination.
In 2018 and 2019, a record 53 children died of vehicular heatstroke each year. In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, 25 children lost their lives in hot cars, and in 2021 nine children have died so far, according to the National Safety Council.
The first child hot-car death in 2021 was 5-year-old child in North Carolina who died four days after being left alone in a hot car April 25, according to Kids and Car Safety.
Following the record highs of 2018 and 2019, the drastic decrease in 2020 was directly related to the fact that families were sheltering in place at home and working from home, according Kids and Car Safety Director Amber Rollins.
The majority of cases happen when a child is unknowingly left in a hot car, and most of the children were supposed to have been dropped off at day care, Rollins said.
Since 1998, 892 children have died in hot cars.
Some trends have been identified over the years by the San Jose State University’s Department of Meteorology & Climate Science: about 46% of the time when a child was forgotten, the caregiver meant to drop the child off at a day care or preschool; Thursdays and Fridays — the end of the work week — have had the highest deaths; and nearly 75% of children who are forgotten and die are under 2 years old.
It doesn’t have to be extremely hot outside for heatstroke to set in. For example, even on a 72-degree day, the temperature inside a car can increase by 30 to 40 degrees in an hour, and 70 percent of that increase occurs in the first 30 minutes, medical experts warn.
A child’s body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult’s. When a child is left in a hot vehicle, their temperature can rise quickly — and they could die within minutes. Heatstroke begins when the core body temperature reaches about 104 degrees. A child can die when their body temperature reaches 107 degrees, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash-related fatalities for children 14 or younger. Studies have shown about 56% of child hot-car deaths in vehicles were caused by adults forgetting the children, and 26% of victims were playing in an unattended vehicle.
“In the summer heat, a vehicle’s interior can reach lethal temperatures very quickly, essentially creating an oven, causing a child’s internal organs to shut down if left unattended inside,” said Ken Grant, manager of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “Young children should never be left alone in a vehicle under any circumstances. The same is true for pets. Make it a routine to look twice and check the back seat before you leave and lock the car.”
Prevention is the best way to keep heatstroke at bay. Just remember to ACT.
• Avoid heat stroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child, even for a minute.
• Create reminders and habits that give you and any caregivers a safety net. Leave an item needed at your next stop in the back seat so you don’t forget about your loved one.
• Take action if you see an unattended child or pet in a vehicle. Dial 911 and follow the instructions of emergency personnel.
Like children, pets have no way to fend for themselves, and hot cars quickly become deadly. In 83 degree weather, a vehicle with the windows rolled down two inches can reach temperatures of 109 in just 10 minutes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Never leave a pet in the car even “just for a minute” — all too often that minute becomes two or three or more, and then it’s too late.