As soon as summer arrives, small children and babies start dying of heat stroke in hot cars. The latest to die this year is an 11-month old left in a car in South Florida. The baby’s parents and four siblings were unloading groceries from a Ford Explorer in the afternoon and forgot to bring the baby inside.
An hour later, when they realized the baby wasn’t in the house, they rushed out to the car. The baby was dead. It was 90 degrees outside. Inside the car, it was 133 degrees, or close to it, given the temperature that day.
Vehicle heating studies show that in 60 minutes the temperature inside a car can rise 43 degrees. Leaving the windows cracked is little help. Every year, 37 children on average die in hot cars in the U.S. Fifty-three percent of these hot car deaths occur when a parent forgets a child in the back seat.
The back seat of a car is the safest place for a child to protect them from injuries in case of an accident. But young children frequently nod off in cars, lulled to sleep by the vehicle’s constant motion. A parent- often not the one who drops the child at school or day care – drives to work, quickly parks the car and rushes in to avoid being late. No sound comes from the sleeping child in the back seat as the door is slammed. At day’s end, the parent leaves work and finds the child dead. It’s a frequent scenario.
Sometimes, kids are deliberately left in cars. A parent runs into a store to get a quick item, leaving a sleeping baby or toddler in the back seat. The checkout line gets stuck or the item is hard to find or the parent ends up taking time to buy more items. On a 90 degree day, the temperature will rise 19 degrees in 10 minutes in the car. The child will bake to death in 109 degree heat unless the parent can take care of the errand in 5 minutes.
When a core body temperature reaches 107 degrees, death is almost certain as the body’s major organs begin to irrevocably shut down. Half the children each year who die of heatstroke in hot cars are under 2 years old. Alcohol and drugs are almost never involved in these deaths. In some states, leaving a child in a hot car is a crime. In some, laws protect Good Samaritans who break into cars to save a child.
These simple tips can ensure that parents and caregivers never forget a child in a car:
- Make it a habit to put a wallet, purse, briefcase or cell phone in the back seat with the child before driving off.
- Place a stuffed animal in the front seat.
- Instruct the day care or school to call immediately if the child does not arrive.
- Always check the back seat before leaving the car.
- Call 911 and break a window on finding a child in a hot car on a steamy day.