Children dying from heatstroke in cars, either because they were left or became trapped, have reached a record number. In 2018, 53 children lost their lives — the most in over 20 years. This year, there have been 34 such deaths as of August 16, according to Jan Null, who tracks the incidents through NoHeatstroke.org.
More than half of vehicular heatstroke cases from 1998 to 2018 were because an adult forgot about a child, Null found. Among the trends he discovered in these incidents:
- About 44% of the time, the caregiver meant to drop the child off at daycare or preschool.
- The end of the workweek — Thursdays and Fridays — saw the highest number of deaths.
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. Let this be your reminder to keep alert, avoid distractions, and put safeguards in place so your child is never left in the backseat.
- 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 memento 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 child care provider; have them call you if your child doesn’t arrive as scheduled.
Vehicular heatstroke deaths don’t just happen when a child is forgotten. The second leading cause (26%) of such deaths are children getting into unattended vehicles, according to NoHeatstroke.org. Get in the habit of always locking your car doors and trunk, year-round. The temperature inside a car can reach 110 degrees, even when the temperature outside is as low as 57 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.
While all types of vehicular heatstroke 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, even with the windows rolled down or the air conditioning on. A child’s body temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult’s.
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 or have the facility’s security or management 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 look in the front and back of the vehicle before locking the door and walking away. Help spread the word on social media, #HeatstrokeKills #CheckforBaby