Hot Car Safety: Facts and Preventative Measures

Fran Majidi
May 9, 2019

On a sunny day, a car can become deadly in less than an hour. But it’s not always sunny or hot when children die of heatstroke inside a car. There have been 801 victims of hot car deathd since 1998. The victim in one case was a 4-year-old boy whose father left him in the car while working a shift at a festival. The saddest part of the story is that dozens of other children will die this year in hot cars, often to their parents’ shock and horror. It can happen to anyone who accidentally forgets a child is in the car. Unfortunately, there’s also a misconception that a child safely strapped inside will be fine because it’s only 60 degrees outside. But at 60 degrees, the inside of the car can reach up to 120 degrees! The body needs only to reach 107 degrees (or even less) for the person to die, even less for a child. On average, 38 children die this way each year, but 2018 holds a record at 52. July is when the number of hot car deaths spikes each year.

Why Are People Leaving Children in the Car?

Even the best parent becomes forgetful once in a while. You’d think that leaving a child in the backseat happens rarely, but it happens more often than you’d think. In fact, the number of children who die inside the car rose drastically after the law mandating child car seat in the backseat went into effect. Often, an overworked and stressed out caregiver or parent will forget that they left the child in the backseat. According to USA Today, 54% of car deaths between 1998 to 2018 are attributed to forgetfulness.Only 18.9% of caregivers involved in a hot car death purposely left the child in the car. A small percentage of children find their way into a car (yes, sometimes in the garage) and can’t get out.

Hot Car Deaths of Pets

More than children, each year hundreds of pets die from hot cars. Again, on a 70-degree day or even less, the inside of a car is like an oven, surpassing 100 degrees. Temperatures like this are extremely dangerous for pets. Animals can die of heatstroke in 15 minutes. Dogs, especially, are prone to heatstroke because they can only cool down by panting. In 2018 alone, there were 58 deaths of pets inside hot cars.

Devices that Help Avoid Hot Car Deaths

In 2017, a bill was introduced to Congress mandating an alarm system that detects a baby or toddler left in the backseat and alerts the parent. The technology has already arrived but not everyone was on board with signing the use of it into law. However, you can buy these safety devices for yourself. Often, the device fits under the car seat cushion and detects weight or clips the harness of a child seat. The alarm syncs with the parent’s phone or keychain and goes off if the parent walks away from the car with the baby still strapped in. If there’s no response, some of these alarms will notify an emergency contact you’ve programmed into its system. Most of these alarms run for $100 or less.

Check out the following brands, which have saved lives: Driver’s Little Helper, Sense A Life,Sunshine Baby iRemind Car Seat Alarm, ChildMinder SoftClip, Kars 4 Kids Safety App and Evenflo Advanced Embrace DLX Infant Car Seat with SensorSafe.

Preventative Measures by Manufacturers

While it’s not required by law that manufacturers have safety features in the cars they make, some have already implemented the technology necessary to prevent heatstroke in children. The following are cars with the latest lifesaving alarms:

  • General Motor, Rear Seat Reminder
  • Nissan, Rear Door Alert
  • Hyundai, Rear Occupant Alert

Important Facts About Hot Car Deaths

  • These tragedies do not only happen in summer. Depending on where you live, this can be a year-round danger to people who have babies, toddlers and dogs. In some states, like California and Florida, it may be a constant threat.
  • If you have a high-stress job or juggle many different hats, you may want to seriously consider trying a safety device to ensure that you never forget a child in your car.
  • Temperatures that seem comfortable to adults (60 to 70 degrees) are a huge threat to children or pets inside a car.
  • Cars can reach 100 degrees or hotter in mild weather, regardless of the car’s paint color.
  • A car can cause heatstroke for a child when temperatures are as low as 57 degrees.
  • A car can cause heatstroke for a child even when the windows are down.
  • On a hot day, parking in the shade is not enough.
  • Children age 14 and below heat up 3-5 times faster than an adult.
  • Children and pets dehydrate quicker than adults.
  • A car can heat up fast even when it’s cloudy outside.
  • Hot car deaths have happened in every state not just warmer climates. It can happen anywhere, any time and to anyone.

Preventative Measures for Parents

To remind yourself that there is a child in the backseat, either leave your cellphone, a shoe or handbag in the backseat next to the child or place a stuffed animal in the passenger’s seat each time you strap the child in the back. This way, you’ll always have a prompt about where your child is. Other ways to prevent forgetting a child in the car:

  • Make it a habit to check the backseat every time you park your car.
  • Keep car doors locked to prevent children from getting into the car and getting trapped inside.
  • Hide car keys and fobs from children.

Free Training Course

The National Safety Council has created an online course about preventing heatstroke in children. There is a certificate at the close of the training, which you can find here.

Parents Whose Children Died in Hot Cars

We often vilify people whose children die of heatstroke while trapped in a car but the phenomena shows that the psychology behind forgetting that there is a child still in the car is the same as forgetting to grab your cellphone before you leave for work. You plan to grab it on the way out but somehow you skip doing it, only to realize hours later that you left it at home. Parents who forget their children in their cars most often did not plan it. They are not necessarily negligent parents. One story about how one family’s baby girl died is tragic: She’d woken up late that day, breaking the family’s morning routine, which then became chaotic. The break from routine caused the mother to skip the essential step of taking her child to childcare first instead of heading straight to the office.

No one ever thinks a tragedy this enormous could happen to them, but it can quite easily.

Laws Surrounding Kids in Hot Cars

Only 19 states have laws against leaving a child alone in the car. In these states, parents can be charged with homicide or at the very least for “leaving a child unattended” or for “endangering a child.” The consequences vary when a child dies in a hot car, even though it’s clear that the majority of these deaths happened by accident, not intentionally.

Good Samaritan laws protect people who break into a car or smash its windows to save a child or pet who may suffer heatstroke without intervention.

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