Editor’s Note: This story has been updated following its original post date.
I update this story every year in hopes that it may get into the hands of parents who leave small children or pets in the car and prevent another child or pet from suffering a horrible, slow, agonizing death.
Car Heat Stroke Statistics
Absorb the numbers below. Each case ended with the death of a child and the planning of a funeral:
Average # of deaths per year since 1998: 37 (one every 9 days)
Highest # of fatalities for a one-year time period – 2010: 49
Most Heat Stroke Deaths Preventable
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 that were not locked. 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.
Temperatures Rise Quickly People often underestimate how quickly temperatures rise in a hot car. Take a look at the rise of the inside of a car versus the outside ambient temperature:
Average elapsed time and inside vehicle temperature rise compared to ambient outdoor temperature:
10 minutes = 19 degree increase
20 minutes = 29 degree increase
30 minutes = 34 degree increase
1 hour = 43 degree increase
Over 1 hour = 45 to 55 degree increase
It is easy to see that while most think an 80 degree outside temperature is pleasant, in a short 30 minutes, the inside temperature of a car is 114 degrees.
Note this important fact: a body core temperature of 107 degrees is usually fatal.
There are some common sense things people can do to avoid causing a heatstroke death to children and pets:
Never leave a child or pet in an unattended car, even with the windows down or part way down.
Be sure that all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don’t overlook sleeping babies or pets.
Always lock your car. If a child is missing, check the car first, including the trunk. Teach your children that vehicles are never to be used as a play area.
Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat and when the child is put in the seat, place the animal in the front with the driver as a reminder.
Place your cell phone, purse, briefcase, or even a shoe in the back seat as a reminder that you have your child in the car.
Make “look before you leave” a routine whenever you get out of the car.
Have a plan that your childcare provider will call you if your child does not show up for school.
I review a lot of new cars, and I give kudos to General Motors for coming up with the best system I have seen. It is called Rear Seat Reminder. Here is how it works:
The Rear Seat Reminder works by monitoring the vehicle’s rear doors. The feature is activated when either rear door is opened and closed up to 10 minutes before the vehicle is started or while the vehicle is running. Once the system is activated, the vehicle is designed to sound five chimes and display a message in the driver information center that reads “Rear Seat Reminder / Look in Rear Seat” the next time the vehicle is turned off. Believe me, you will not miss this alarm.
I have also seen people who have locked pets in their car to run-in somewhere and felt safe by using the remote start feature on their key fob. Most require the car be locked before it can be remotely started. Beware: all of these will shut themselves off at some point in case the vehicle was accidentally started. Some shut off in as little as five minutes.
Nissan has a similar system to General Motors’ but it is not a widespread in its models yet. It debuted on the 2018 Pathfinder.
There are a number of resources to get more education on this subject. My favorite is www.kidsandcars.org. There is a ton of information there as well as a newsletter you can sign up for.
Also, know what your state law is on freeing a child or pet in a locked car. Some states allow people to break car windows to save a child or pet without civil or criminal penalties. If you come across a child or pet in a hot car, act fast but act wisely. If someone else is around you, get him or her to take a picture or video of your actions, starting with a shot of the outside temperature.
Imagine living with yourself should you be the cause of death to a child or pet. Those memories would haunt you forever, knowing how the child or pet suffered. Some people are never the same. Yes, everyone is busy and often running behind, and many times people get to a destination and bail out of the car.
Cases where one parent is not used to dropping off a child at daycare or school often result in daily routines…driving to work, jumping out of the car, and locking the doors.
THINK! 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.