June 20, 2017 -- It’s every parent’s nightmare: forgetting a child in a hot car.
About 37 children die in hot cars each year in the U.S., including 12 so far this year, says Jan Null, a meteorologist at San Jose State University. Null has tracked 712 reports of child hot car deaths since 1998.
Null says while most incidents happen in the summer months of June, July, and August, deaths have happened every month of the year. Most victims are 2 years old or younger, although they have ranged in age from 5 days to 14 years.
More than half of hot car deaths happen when parents or caretakers unintentionally leave a child behind. But that’s not the only way children die in hot cars, Null’s research at the site No Heat Stroke shows:
- 54% were forgotten by a caregiver.
- 28% were playing in a car that was unattended.
- 17% were intentionally left in the car.
- 1% had unknown circumstances.
Every case could have been prevented, Null says on the site.
Ben Hoffman, MD, a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, says parents need to be aware of where their children are at all times.
“Heatstroke in cars is a 100% preventable,” he says.
While parents may turn to technology to help, experts say that alone is not a perfect solution. Reminders do not help, for example, if a child gets into an unlocked car.
Hoffman adds that you should never leave a child unattended in a running vehicle. Even cracking a window is not going to help because a car can heat up even when it’s nice out. Heatstroke can affect children in just minutes.
The National Safety Council describes two kinds of technology that can be reminders for parents and caretakers. In one, if the driver opens and closes a rear door before starting the car, a rear seat reminder alerts the driver once the car is turned off. It sounds a chime and displays a message on the car’s instrument panel reminding the driver to check the back seat.
The other type is car seat technology. This will chime or tone to remind the driver within seconds of turning off the car through use of a wireless receiver and a “smart chest clip.”
Experts also offer these tips:
- Leave an important item in the back seat, like a shoe, purse, cellphone, or briefcase.
- Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat, and when your child is put into the seat, move the animal to the front seat as a reminder.
- Ensure your child has arrived safely by checking with whoever has your child.
- Write a note and leave it on your dashboard, or use your cellphone’s calendar or an app to remind you.
- Make sure your car is locked and children can’t get into it without your knowledge.
- Put a back-seat check into your routine when you get out of the car.
- If a child goes missing, immediately check the car and trunk or pool.
- Make a plan with your child care provider to call you if your child does not show up.
If you see a child in a hot car, safecar.gov says:
- Do not wait on the driver to return for more than a couple of minutes.
- If the child appears to be in distress or not responsive, call 911 immediately.
- Get the child out of the car.
- Use cool water on the child by spraying them; do not soak them.
- For children who are responsive, call 911 and stay with them until help arrives.
- If other people are around you, have them search for the driver or have the driver paged.