COVID-19 Raises New Concerns Following Two Worst Years on Record for Heatstroke Fatalities
Washington, DC, and Mount Laurel, NJ, July 14, 2020 − As summer temperatures continue to reach record highs across the country, Safe Kids Worldwide (SKW), the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), and other safety advocates are joining forces to raise awareness of the danger of children dying in hot cars.
Since 1998, at least 856 children across the U.S. have died from heatstroke while unattended in a car. The last two years were the worst on record with a total of 105 children dying and to date this year, eight children have died of heatstroke, including a 17-month-old girl on the 4th of July. Eighty-eight percent of the children dying are 4 years old and younger.
“During these stressful times, with changes in our routines, states reopening, parents heading back to work, and temperatures on the rise, there is a serious concern that we could soon be back on pace with the record number of deaths we saw in the past two years,” said Torine Creppy, president of Safe Kids Worldwide. “Our greatest wish is that heatstroke won’t claim the life of another child and we’re calling on everyone to be a part of the solution. Whether you are a parent, caregiver, or a concerned bystander, you can help save a life.”
Kelly Mariotti, executive director of JPMA, added, “Juvenile products like car seats are critical to saving young lives. We look forward to the day there is reliable technology built directly into cars to remind us, even during the most hectic days parents of young children undoubtably experience. Until then, parents and caregivers should use a physical reminder as a guide to check the backseat of the vehicle each time you exit the car.”
Heatstroke occurs when the body is unable to cool itself quickly enough. Young children are particularly at risk. A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s. When a child’s internal temperature reaches 104 degrees, major organs begin to shut down, and when the temperature reaches 107 degrees, the child can die. Even on mild days, the temperature in a car can rise by 19 degrees in only 10 minutes and cracking the window doesn’t help.
During COVID-19 and beyond, safety advocates urge parents, caregivers and bystanders to help eliminate heatstroke deaths with the following tips:
- Never leave a young child in a car, even for a moment. While leaving your child in the car alone might seem like a good idea during these challenging times, it is not worth the risk. Seconds turn into minutes, and before you know it, the temperature inside of the car has reached lethal levels. Instead, find alternatives. Ask a friend or family member to watch your child at home or, if that’s not possible, have your child accompany you into the business, while following CDC recommended precautions. Please note that some businesses are not allowing younger children into their stores, so call first to be sure.
- Keep car doors and trunks locked and keep key fobs out of reach. With more families home and parents focusing on many priorities at once, supervision can be more difficult. Kids as young as 1 or 2 years old are known to climb into unlocked cars and trunks to play, but they can’t always get out. Locking your car doors and reminding your neighbors (even those without kids) to do the same provides an important level of protection. If, for some reason, you cannot find a child you thought was just outside playing, check cars and trunks. Recently, 3- and 4-year-old siblings in Tulsa tragically died after gaining entry to a vehicle.
- Create reminders. Research shows the majority of child heatstroke deaths involve a break in family routine. As COVID-19 “stay at home” and “safer at home” restrictions loosen, many parents will need to alter routines once again. When you’re driving, create reminders by putting something in the back seat of your car such as a briefcase, purse, or cellphone that you’ll need at your final destination.
- Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call first responders at 911. Many people on foot have helped save a child left alone in a vehicle.
- Make a plan with child care centers. Arrange for your childcare center to call if your child is unexpectedly absent after the day begins.
Over the past year, Safe Kids and JPMA have been part of a group of advocates, including KidsAndCars.org, noheatstroke.org, National Safety Council, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, all committed to stopping kids from dying in hot cars using every tool necessary, including awareness, education, technology and advocacy.
For more information on preventing child heatstroke deaths, please visit noheatstroke.org and www.safekids.org/heatstroke.
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Key Facts on Child Heatstroke:
- Even One Child Dying is Too Many. Since 1998, when recordkeeping began, at least 856 children have died from pediatric vehicular heatstroke in cars.
- A Top Cause of Death Involving Our Kids: Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children.
- Our Youngest Children are Dying: 73 percent of children who die from heatstroke are two years old and younger.
- All Year Round, Every State: Heatstroke deaths have been recorded every month of the year and in nearly all 50 states.
- What is Heatstroke? Heatstroke is when a person's temperature exceeds 104 degrees F and their internal thermoregulatory mechanism is overwhelmed. A child’s developing thermoregulatory systems are not as efficient as an adult's — their body temperatures warm at a rate 3 to 5 times faster than adults. When a core body temperature of 107 degrees F or greater is reached, internal organs begin to shut down. This can lead to death.
- It Need Not Be a Scorching Hot Day for a Child Heatstroke Tragedy: Even on a mild day, a motor vehicle can heat up quickly. For example, a car’s temperature can increase by 19 degrees in just 10 minutes when it is only 80 degrees outside. Cracking open the windows does not slow the speed of heat rising in a car.
- A Break in a Family’s Routine May Trigger Leaving a Child Behind in a Car: Heatstroke can happen to even those most caring parents. Dr. David Diamond, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, has studied how stress in parents’ daily lives can cause memory lapses that lead to tragedy.
- Childcare Centers Must Be Vigilant: Daycare centers with transportation must insist drivers check all around their vehicles to make sure all kids have deboarded. They should also call parents when their child is not present in a reasonable time after the center’s day begins.