Summer marks peak of hot car deaths

This blog was written by Isabelle Shafer, Safe Kids communication summer intern.

I grew up in South Florida, so I know how hot the inside of a car can get. When I was in high school, my friends and I would have to open our car doors and wait in the parking lot for the inside to cool down enough for us to get in. From time to time as I was growing up, I also heard stories about cars being so hot that kids left alone in them had died.

When I began my internship at Safe Kids, I was devastated to learn that the occasional stories I heard were not rare. Hot car deaths, also called vehicular heatstroke, happen far more often than I’d thought:  I discovered that every year, vehicular heatstroke kills an average of 37 children around the country.

I also learned that heatstroke-related tragedies typically begin with a simple mistake: a parent forgets to drop their baby off at daycare, a child sneaks into an unlocked car, or a caregiver leaves a child in the car to run a quick errand. No matter how minor the mistake is, the unthinkable can happen.

Since children can’t regulate their body temperature like adults can, a child left in a car for as little as ten minutes can begin to face deadly heat. When their internal body temperature reaches 104 degrees, children’s vital organs start to shut down. And when it reaches 107 degrees, the child can die.

The most heartbreaking part of hot car deaths is that they always could have been avoided. And they can happen to anyone, even the most loving parent. As summer begins, temperatures go up across the country and so does the risk of vehicular heatstroke.

Here at Safe Kids, we are working to prevent heatstroke-related injuries by taking time to ACT.

A: Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving a child alone in a car, not even for a minute. Each second makes a difference as temperatures in the car could increase up to 19 degrees in just 10 minutes. And everyone should make sure to keep their car locked when they’re not inside so kids don’t get in on their own.

C: Create reminders. Safety experts advise parents and caregivers to make a habit of putting something in the back of the car next to a child such as a briefcase, a purse or a cell phone that they’ll need at their final destination.  This way, they’ll remember to check the backseat and always see their child.

T: Take action. This tip is crucial for people like me who don’t have children. Anyone who sees a child alone in a car should call 911. You never know how long the child has been in the car, and emergency personnel are trained to save children from these situations.

Learn more about heatstroke and other areas of safety in and around cars.