About 40 children a year die from heatstroke, either because they were left or became trapped in a car. That’s about one child every 10 days killed in a hot car. As of May 2023, four children have died due to being forgotten in parked cars.
The majority of hot car deaths — 53% — happen because someone forgets a child in a car. You may be asking yourself: How does this happen? Families who lost a loved one thought the same thing at one point, but then the tragedy happened to them. Hot car deaths don’t just occur in the summer heat. On average, the first vehicular heatstroke of the year happens in March, according to Jan Null, who has been tracking such deaths since 1998. Among the trends he discovered over the years:
- About 46% of the time when a child was forgotten, the caregiver meant to drop the child off at a daycare or preschool.
- Thursdays and Fridays — the end of the workweek — have had the highest deaths.
- More than half of the deaths (54%) are children under 2 years old.
Check the Back Seat
Parents and caregivers, get in the habit of always checking the back seat of the car before locking the doors. Remember: Check the Back Seat.
- Place a briefcase, purse, or cell phone next to the child’s car seat so that you’ll always check the back seat before leaving the car.
- Keep a stuffed animal or another toy in your child’s car seat when it’s empty. Move it to the front seat as a visual reminder when your child is in the back seat.
- Set a rule for your childcare provider; have them call you if your child doesn’t arrive as scheduled.
Everyone Should Keep Their Car Locked
Hot car deaths don’t just happen when a child is forgotten. The second leading cause — 25% — of such deaths are children getting into unattended vehicles. Get in the habit of always locking your car doors and trunk, year-round. The temperature inside a car can reach over 115 degrees when the outside temperature is just 70 degrees.
- Never let children play in an unattended vehicle. Teach them a vehicle is not a play area.
- Keep car keys out of a child’s reach.
- If a child is missing, quickly check all vehicles, including the trunk.
Never Leave a Child Alone
While all types of hot car deaths are preventable, the third leading cause of these deaths — knowingly leaving a child — is the most preventable. Never leave a child alone in a parked car. Rolling windows down or parking in the shade does little to change the interior temperature of the vehicle. A child’s body temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult’s.
See a Child Alone in a Vehicle?
If you see a child alone in a vehicle, make sure the child is okay and responsive. If not, call 911 immediately.
If the child appears to be okay, attempt to locate the parents; if at a public place, have the facility page the car owner over an intercom system.
If the child is not responsive and appears to be in distress, attempt to get into the car to assist the child—even if that means breaking a window. Many states have “Good Samaritan” laws that protect people from lawsuits for getting involved to help a person in an emergency.
Remember: Kids and hot cars can be a deadly combination. Don’t take the chance. Always check the front and back seats of the vehicle before locking the door and walking away.
Help spread the word on social media, #HeatstrokeKills #CheckTheBackSeat.
Source: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration