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Heatstroke in Cars

Children at Risk of Dying from Heatstroke

Many people see a news report of a child being left behind in a vehicle, school bus, or daycare van and immediately wonder how that could have happened. How could a parent or other caretaker just forget a child? Unfortunately, it happens more often than you think. About 37 children die in hot cars each year, which is about 1 child every 9 days. Nearly 87% of these children were 3 years of age or younger, and 55% were age 1 or younger. Surprisingly, more than half of these deaths involved a loving parent unknowingly leaving the child in the vehicle. Around 1 out of every 4 deaths occurred due to a child getting into a vehicle on his or her own, often without the parent or caretaker being aware.

The Dangers of a Hot Car

Though states with warmer weather and higher temperatures are usually where most heatstroke deaths occur, they have occurred in nearly every state. Texas, Florida, California, Arizona, and North Carolina have had the most child heatstroke deaths. However, children can still overheat in cooler climates, and children have died from heatstroke in cars in 60 degree weather. The reason for this is that a car heats up very quickly, even with the windows cracked. Studies have found that the internal temperature of a car can reach up to 154 degrees when the temperature is at least 86 degrees outside. A hot car is especially dangerous to small children because their bodies overheat 3 to 5 times faster than adults.

Hot Car Laws

From 1990 to 2016, there were 793 child heat stroke deaths reported across the United States. Prior to 1990, there were only 17 such reported deaths. In an effort to reduce these rates, Tennessee became the first state to enact a hot car law in 2015. This law allows persons to smash a window or force themselves into a parked vehicle without liability to rescue a child left inside who is at risk of harm. Since that time, more than 18 states have enacted similar legislation.

Child Heat Stroke Prevention Tips

What are some ways that you can make sure you never leave a child alone in a vehicle? First, make it part of your regular routine to check the back seat of the vehicle before you lock it and walk away. You can also place something important, such as your purse or cell phone, in the back seat to make sure you check it before you walk off. Another idea is to keep a stuffed animal in your child’s car seat. When the child is riding with you, remove the stuffed animal from the car seat and place it in the passenger seat beside you as a reminder that your child is in the back seat, in case the child falls asleep and does not alert you to his or her presence. Also, request that your babysitter or daycare facility calls you if you do not drop your child off as scheduled. Finally, in order to make sure that children cannot get into a parked car on their own without your knowledge, you should keep your vehicle locked at all times and keep your keys out of the reach of small children.