Hot Cars and Kids: Death in hot cars

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Children’s death from heatstroke has been an issue for decades and it is still happening nowadays. 30 children left in hot cars died from heatstroke in the U.S. in 2014, while the total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths in 2013 was 44.  So far, 636 heatstroke deaths have been recorded in the USA, with an average number of 38 heatstroke deaths per year since 1998.

Circumstances vary, from children forgotten inside the car to children intentionally left in a vehicle by an adult. Here are some demographics of people responsible for heatstroke deaths of children forgotten in vehicles from 1998 to 2013:


Relation to Child  Forgotten  % of total
 Mother  95  30
 Father  100  32
 Both parents  31  10
 Grandmother  14  4
 Grandfather 8  3
 Both grandparents  2  1
 Other female relative  8  3
 Other male relative  2  1
 Female childcare  18  6
 Male childcare  17  5
 Unknown childcare  1  0
 Other female  2  1
 Other male  2  1
 Unknown  2  1
 Total  312


Heatstroke deaths happen mostly to children between 1 and 14 years of age. More than 31 % of heat stroke deaths occur in children younger than age 1 and more than 70% in children younger than age 2. The older the child the lower the percentage of heatstroke deaths is. Unfortunately, almost 20% of heat stroke deaths occur because a caregiver intentionally left the child in the car. Yes. There are ‘parents’ who do that. It might be because they are not well informed such as in the recent case of a Manhattan fashion designer who intentionally let her 1-year-old son in the car so that she could go shopping.

There are many cases when parents think that it is safe to leave their children inside a hot car by thinking that 10 minutes or even half an hour is not going to be a big deal. Many of these parents don’t even have proper information on how the baby’s body works.  In some cases, even parents who try to be careful by parking the car in the shadow or leaving a window open don’t know that they are not doing enough. There have been death cases even when the car was not parked directly in the sun and with the windows open.


Tips on how to prevent heatstroke deaths:

1. Never leave a child unattended inside the car! Yes. Never! Especially when the child is very young and unable to leave the car by himself / herself. You might need to buy something really quick at the grocery store and think that it is ok if you leave your kid inside the car a few minutes but temperatures can go high pretty quick even though it may not seem very hot outside. Cars usually heat up 20 degrees in 10 minutes even when it is cloudy, reaching 110 degrees when temperatures outside are only in the 60s. Heat stroke can happen even when the outside temperature is as low as 57 degrees. Plus, keep in mind that children’s thermoregulatory body system is less efficient compared to adults. Children’s body temperature warms up 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s would in the same circumstance, so, you can imagine what might happen during those few ‘innocent’ minutes you leave your kid inside the car.

2. Do not let kids play around unattended vehicles. You know how kids are. They keep inventing games and you never know when a kid will hide inside an unattended car for a game’s sake. Keep checking on them and warn them to be more careful themselves.

3. Remind yourself … constantly! If you are still unfamiliar with some facts, now that you are a parent and have your newborn child with you everywhere you go,  there are plenty of things you can do in order not to forget your child inside the car:

– Don’t get lost in your routine. You have a child with you now and you are responsible for the child’s life. Make sure you check your car always before getting out of it. Having your mind scattered everywhere and worrying about problems you might have, you might forget that your child is with you on the back seat. Especially if he or she is sleeping and is not making any noises. So, keep reminding yourself!

– Leave your wallet, keys or anything that you always keep with you in the back seat so that whenever you leave the car, you will be reminded.- Take off one of your shoes and put it in the back seat. There is no way you will leave the car with only one shoe so that is a very good reminder.

– Keep a stuffed animal or a toy in the front seat of your car every time you are driving with your child in the back seat. Make sure the toy is big enough to remind you and always keep it with you in the car.

4. If someone else is taking care of your child, always make sure to be in touch with them and ask them to call you and let you know when your child safely arrives home.

5. If you see someone else’s child locked inside the car take action. Do whatever it takes to save that child’s life. Ask someone to find the driver and if they take long to rich the car, you can always break the car’s window and get the kid outside the car. In case the child is not responsive, call 911. In the meantime you can spray the child with cool water and help him/her cool down.

You may roll your eyes and think how can someone forget their child inside the car, but it happens more often than you think. And it happens to good parents too. Check out this heartbreaking story about the heatstroke of an 11-month-old girl.

I know this is not an easy topic to think about and talk about, but we have to. Now it’s not summer and I think it is just the right time to discuss the topic. Young parents have to educate themselves and realize the real dangers of hot cars. Please, feel free to share your opinion and advice. Thank you.

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About the Author:

Juxhina Malaj - a wanderluster and bibliophile who loves photography, nature, documentary films, re-watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S, and drinking green tea while listening to Indie Folk, Delta Blues, Jazz and all the good vibes.
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