With high temperatures in the 90s expected next week in Southern California, I feel it is important to share this information with you again.
Before the mid-1990s, infants traveling in automobiles were usually strapped into car seats located in the front passenger seat. While no number of infant deaths is acceptable, infant mortalities during that time were relatively low. Only about 10 children per year died from being left in hot cars in that era.
Airbags were introduced in the early 1990s. Their violent impact made it unsafe for babies’ car seats to be located in the front seat (63 children died from front seat airbag impacts in 1993 alone). At about the same time, researchers learned that infants’ car seats that faced to the rear were safer. Since then, infants have been traveling almost exclusively in the rear seat.
A baby in the backseat might as well be invisible
Out of sight, out of mind = tragedy. When children began traveling out of their parents’ field of view, those parents began to forget that they were not alone. When this forgetfulness converges with elevated temperatures, the results become tragic. Over the last couple of decades, infant deaths caused by being left alone in overheated cars have increased to a yearly average of 37.
The National Safety Council reports on the circumstances surrounding each case of a child hot car death; those reports can be found at NoHeatstroke.org. Their findings show:
87% of children who die in hot cars are three years old or younger
54% of babies who die in hot cars are simply forgotten
27% of children who die in hot cars are playing in an unattended vehicle, without their parents’ knowledge
18% of babies who die in hot cars are intentionally left there by an adult who thinks no harm can possibly occur
How long does it take for the temperature in a car to become fatal?
In an effort to reduce these needless hot car deaths, researchers at Arizona State University conducted a new study to determine how long it takes automobiles to heat up to deadly temperatures on hot days. Their results deserve our attention. On a day when the external temperature reached 95°F, the temperature inside cars parked in the sun reached 116°F within an hour. The dashboards heated up to a blistering (literally) 157° and the seats reached 123°.
What causes heatstroke and a hot car death?
Heatstroke can occur at any time after a child’s core body temperature rises above 104°F (40°C). 107°F is usually fatal. A child’s active metabolism causes his body heat to elevate 3 to 5 times faster than an adult overheats. Putting those numbers in context, the physiological condition of an average 1-year-old girl would meet the criteria for heatstroke after less than an hour’s exposure to the temperatures reached in the test car, and another hour’s exposure to those same temperatures would almost certainly kill her.
What are the signs and symptoms of heatstroke?
Here are the most common signs of heatstroke, also referred to as hyperthermia. Even after getting into a hot car with your children, be sure to watch for these heatstroke symptoms. And get that a/c going!
- Rapid shallow breathing
Can I leave my baby in the care for 5 minutes?
You must never, ever, leave any child alone in any car, under any circumstances, for any reason, at any time. To reinforce this, remember that California law mandates, without exception, that a child under 12 may not be left in a car without an adult present.
How can we prevent these family catastrophes?
It was technology that inadvertently put more children at risk by inventing airbags, and technology can help us avoid killing our children. Some new vehicles feature automatic reminders to check the back seat. When a rear door is opened and closed, either within 10 minutes before the vehicle is started, or while the car is running, five chimes sound and a message to check the back seat is displayed on the instrument panel when the vehicle is shut off.
Another available device generates a series of tones that will sound within two seconds after the vehicle is shut off. This musical message, designed to remind a driver that a child is in the rear seat, is received through a wireless receiver, coupled with a “smart” chest clip.
Some decidedly low-tech methods can be incorporated into a parent’s routine.
You can create effective homemade reminders that your child is in the car. Place something that you absolutely can’t leave your car without, like your wallet, purse, briefcase, or cell phone, next to your infant’s rear car seat. Or keep a large stuffed animal in the child’s car seat when it is empty. When you put your baby in the rear seat, move the stuffed animal to the right front seat, where you’ll see it before you exit the vehicle.
If your child is in daycare, ask the childcare provider, caregiver, or babysitter to call if the child doesn’t show up within the timeframe expected.
Whatever it takes, coach, train, and remind yourself to remain aware of your child’s presence in your car.
Some encouraging news
2020 the number of children who died in hot cars was cut in half from the previous year. 2020 marked the first time in six years that there were a decline in U.S. child hot car deaths. While this may be due to more limited travel amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it is promising news.
For more information about kids and car safety, please visit kidsandcars.org.
KidsAndCars.org is advocating for Congress to pass the Hot Cars Act of 2019 which would require rear occupant alarm technology in all cars so the presence of a child can be detected.
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