Nearly two dozen children have died so far this year from a preventable tragedy: they were left or became trapped in hot cars and suffered pediatric vehicular heatstroke.
In August alone, 10 children died of vehicular heatstroke, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. How does this happen? For families who have lost a child to vehicular heatstroke, it’s something they, too, wondered before it happened to them.
Since 1998, there have been at least 930 hot car deaths, the NHTSA reports.
Children are more susceptible to vehicular heatstroke
A child’s body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult’s. For children, heatstroke starts when their core body temperature reaches 104 degrees. They can die if it reaches 107 degrees, and that can happen in minutes, the NHTSA says.
In 2018 and 2019, the United States saw a record number of hot car deaths. According to noheatstroke.org, 53 children died in each year — the most reported in at least 20 years.
About 46% of the time, the caregiver meant to drop the child off at daycare or preschool — more than half of the deaths (54%) were children younger than 2. The highest number of child car deaths occurred on Thursdays and Fridays at the end of the workweek.
In 10 minutes, the temperature inside a car can rise 20 degrees. It can get as hot as 115 degrees inside a car even if it’s 70 degrees outside.
Tips to avoid hot car deaths
Here are some tips from the NHTSA on how you can prevent pediatric vehicular heatstroke:
- Never leave a child in a vehicle unattended — even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running, and the air conditioning is on.
- Make it a habit to check your entire vehicle — front and back — before locking the door and walking away. Train yourself to "Park, Look, Lock" or always ask yourself, "Where's Baby?"
- Ask your childcare provider to call if your child doesn’t show up for care as expected.
- Place a personal item like a purse or briefcase in the back seat, as another reminder to look before you lock. Write a note or place a stuffed animal in the passenger's seat to remind you that a child is in the back seat.
- Always lock your car doors and trunk, year-round, so children can’t get into unattended vehicles.Store car keys out of a child's reach and teach children that a vehicle is not a play area.
What to do if you see a child alone in a vehicle
If you see a child alone in a vehicle, first, you should make sure the child is okay and responsive. If not, call 911 immediately, the NHTSA says:
- If the child appears OK, try to find 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 in distress, try 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.