In 2013, there were at least 44 children killed by heatstroke after being left in vehicles. So far this year, according to the Department of Earth and Climate Services at San Francisco State University, there have been at least 15 such deaths. Most troubling, these tragic endings to short lives are entirely preventable. Preventing these deadly accidents in cars is a matter of attentiveness and diligence among parents and all caregivers.
Heatstroke deaths can happen at any time of year and they are most common in southeastern states. Temperatures inside your car can easily reach dangerous levels even on days that aren’t scorching outside.
Why are children being left behind?
From 1998 through 2013, 606 children died of heat strokes while in cars. In 51 percent of those cases, the child was “forgotten” by the person caring for them. In another third of the cases, the child was playing in the vehicle unattended. Nearly one out of five cases involved a child intentionally left behind.
What happens when a child is left in a vehicle?
When it is warm or sunny out, the temperature in a closed vehicle quickly climbs. In just 10 minutes, it can increase 20 degrees. While many parents believe a cracked window will help the vehicle stay cool, it does little on a warm day.
When temperatures are in the 60s, your vehicle can reach more than 110 degrees. The NHTSA reports that heatstroke can even occur when it is just 57 degrees outside.
Signs of heatstroke
Mayo Clinic defines heatstroke as a condition that occurs when your body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Hot weather, physical activity, and being a young child or older adult can all increase your risk of suffering heatstroke.
Signs of heatstroke include:
- nausea and vomiting
- rapid breathing
- high heart rate
- lack of sweating
- flushed skin
- muscle cramps
- loss of consciousness
Unfortunately, if a child is left in a vehicle, no one is present to witness these warning signs.
Prevent vehicle-related heatstroke in children
As a parent or caregiver, it’s your responsibility to help prevent these tragic deaths in children.
- Never leave your child unattended in a car: Don’t leave your child in the car as you run inside to make a quick purchase, or as you rush into the house to get something you forgot. Opening a car window will not help. Simply don’t leave a child unattended in a vehicle.
- Don’t let children play in vehicles unattended: Your car is not a toy. While playing around a vehicle may seem fun to children, they can easily get trapped inside with no one the wiser. Make your vehicle off-limits when you aren’t around.
- Hold each other accountable: If your spouse is normally the one who drops off a child at daycare or school, and it’s your turn, have them call or text you a reminder.
The NHTSA offers a great tip that can help parents remember a child in the backseat. They suggest keeping a stuffed animal in the car seat when it is not in use. When you put your child in the seat, move the stuffed animal to the front to serve as a visual reminder that your young one is in the back.
Heatstroke is the #1 cause of non-crash vehicle-related deaths for children ages 14 and younger. It is most common in southeastern states, and Georgia does not have a law specifically barring parents from leaving their children behind in cars. In other words, it’s up to us as parents, caregivers, and concerned citizens to be vigilant and protect children from harm in hot cars.