I update this story every year, in hopes that it may get into the hands of parents who have small children in the car, and prevent another child from suffering a horrible, slow death.
Since 1998, a total of 659 children have died after being left in hot cars — an average of 38 deaths per year. Last year, 31 children died of heat stroke in automobiles, and there were 44 in 2013.
The sad part is, each of those deaths was avoidable, and the vast majority were accidental. Around 51 percent of those fatalities were caused by parents who accidentally left their children in the car. Another 30 percent occurred when children became trapped while playing in unattended vehicles. 17 percent resulted when parents intentionally left their kids behind — though one hopes that’s because the parents needed to do some quick shopping, not because they’d been planning infanticide.
The problem is, many parents don’t understand how quickly temperatures inside their cars can reach life-threatening levels. Children’s body temperatures rise up to five times faster than adults’, succumbing to heat stroke when their temperatures reach 107 degrees.
During the summer months, when outside temperatures are often in the low 80s, car interior temps can soar to fatal heights within just ten minutes. Even with ambient temperatures as low as 57 degrees, heat stroke can occur.
You might think that with all the wearable technology and hidden sensors embedded in our daily environments — including our cars — there ought to be a way for parents to monitors their kids’ well-being and alert them if they accidentally leave a child in the car. Unfortunately, for all the gizmos around us, the technology just isn’t there yet — or at least it’s not developed enough to be relied on.
The Department of Transportation is taking an old-school approach to solving the problem, talking up its “Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock” campaign. The initiative is designed to educate the public about the dangers of leaving children in hot cars. According to the DOT “Parents and caregivers are the first line of defense against these needless tragedies—but everyone in the community has a role to play. Prevention means never leaving children unattended in a vehicle and always checking the back seat before walking away. If a child is in distress in a hot car, bystanders should call 911 immediately.”
The campaign’s website offers some helpful tips for parents and others, including ways to remind yourself to check your car’s back seat. My favorite is to put something important in the back seat with the child, like a cell phone or purse. You can also leave a toy in the child seat, and when you strap the child in, put the toy in the front seat as a reminder. Even yellow sticky notes on your dash are better than nothing. There are other ideas that might help you at www.kidsandcars.org.
As someone who has suffered the loss of a child, trust me, it is an exclusive club that nobody wants to be a member of.
Jerry Reynolds, The Car Pro
Photo Credit: www.SaferCar.gov/heatstroke