Infants Still Dying in Hot Cars: How Do We Stop This?


I’m not sure what it takes to prevent tragedies like this from happening. Senseless, heartbreaking, tragic situations are reported far too often in the heat of summer. Children and especially infants who die of heatstroke when left unattended in sweltering heat inside a vehicle are alarming. These are often unintentional accidents – but with fatal results.

So far in 2013, there have been at least nineteen deaths of children unattended in vehicles; ten which has been confirmed as heatstroke and nine which, based upon the known circumstances, are most likely heatstroke. Last year there were at least thirty-two deaths of children due to hyperthermia (heatstroke) after being left in or having gained access to hot cars, trucks, vans and SUV’s.

Just recently in our own area:

A little 8-month old baby boy died after being left in a car for hours as his mother worked in Alexandria on July 5, 2013. The woman apparently went to work without realizing she had left her son in the hot car during one of the hottest days of summer in our area. The woman intended to drop off the infant at daycare. She didn’t even realize she had left him in the car until she left work and saw the child in the car. She immediately drove to the nearest hospital, but it was too late.

Also on Friday, July 5, 2013,  a 16-month-old girl died after being left in a car for about four hours in Baltimore. A relative forgot he left a 16-month-old girl in his truck when he went home to take a nap, according to a report on the NBCNews Washington website

On May 31, 2013, The Richmond Times Dispatch reports that “[mother] was arraigned on felony child neglect charges Friday in Henrico Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court. Prosecutor Shannon Taylor said [the woman’s] 3-month-old daughter and 20-month-old son were left in the mother’s car during her 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. shift Sunday at a hotel.”

More than 600 U.S. children have died in hot cars since 1990, according to the nonprofit safety group Kids and Cars. Children are sometimes left unattended in a hot car unintentionally — sometimes because the driver forgot the child was there — or when kids get into unlocked cars without any adult knowing it happened. Within minutes, they can be in danger and heat stroke is a killer of any age when temperatures soar.

Kids and Cars says, “On average, 38 children die in hot cars each year from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside motor vehicles. Even the best of parents or caregivers can overlook a sleeping baby in a car; and the end result can be injury or even death.”

It Only Takes Minutes

Just a few minutes in a hot car can be fatal for young children who are very susceptible to heat stroke. Christopher Haines, DO, director of pediatric emergency medicine at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia explains, “On a day that is just 72 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature [inside a car] can increase by 30 to 40 degrees in an hour, and 70% of this increase occurs the first 30 minutes.”

Heat stroke may occur when body temperature passes 104 degrees Fahrenheit. That overwhelms the brain’s temperature control, causing symptoms such as dizziness, disorientation, agitation, confusion, sluggishness, seizure, loss of consciousness, and/or death.

Always Take Precautions

The NHTSA provides the following tips for safety of children (or pets) in cars:

  • Never leave kids alone in a hot car, even briefly.
  • Always check the front and back seats of the car before you lock it and leave.
  • See a kid alone in a hot car? Call 911 immediately. Get them out ASAP if they are in distress.
  • Put your purse, briefcase, or something else you need by the child’s carseat so you don’t forget to check.
  • Always lock your car when it’s empty so kids can’t get in without you knowing.

SOURCE: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Other safety tips include:

  • Always have your babysitter or caregiver call you if your child has not arrived at a scheduled time.
  • Text or call the person responsible for picking up/delivering your child to make sure it was done safely and on time.
  • Double-check your backseat for anyone left in the car.
  • If you are driving a carpool, take a headcount of children as they enter AND exit your vehicle.
  • If you are expecting the arrival of a child who does not show up, contact the parents or other person responsible for the child.
  • Don’t stand and talk to friends for ‘just a minute’ while your child is still inside a hot car – temperatures risk quickly and the child may not be able to call for help.

PLEASE – help keep all of our children safe. Don’t let distractions, confusion, hurriedness, or anything else come in the way of ensuring children are not left in danger at any time. Don’t even leave a child in a hot car for 1 minute to run a quick errand, drop off a package, or for any reason. It’s not worth the risk of heatstroke, possible death (and even kidnapping!).

If you ever see a child in a hot car alone, immediately take action and call 911 for help. You could save the life of a child.