Over the years, I’ve watched news stories about kids’ dying in hot cars. Every time I saw those stories I wondered, “How could that have happened?” Now that I’m a parent, I can understand how easy it is to lose your train of thought.
On one occasion, I was driving my sons to the mall to buy shoes. I was dealing with some serious work issues and the time and I was trying to work out the situation in my mind. The boys were unusually quite that day because they were playing video games with their headphones on. Their silence made it easy for me to be fully consumed by my thoughts.
When I reached the mall, I parked the car, go out, locked the doors, and headed to the entrance. Before I could get too far away from the car, I heard my sons’ yelling my name and banging on the windows. I had forgotten them in the car! If I hadn’t heard the commotion, the boys would have been trapped in the car because the child locks were on. I live in Texas where the temperature can reach triple digits. My absentmindedness very easily could have led to a dangerous and deadly situation for my boys.
Each year, dozens of children die in this tragic way. Most often, they are forgotten in the backseat by a busy parent or caregiver. Some fatalities occur when a child gains access on his or her own to a car that was left unlocked. Others are left intentionally in the car while a caregiver chooses to go shopping or run an errand.
An examination of media reports about child vehicular heatstroke deaths for a 16-year period (1998 through 2014) shows the following circumstances:
- Child forgotten by caregiver (53%)
- Child playing in unattended vehicle (29%)
- Child intentionally left in vehicle by adult (17%)
- Circumstances unknown (1%)
A car’s interior can rise 43 degrees in an hour and easily top 123 degrees on only an 80-degree day, even with the windows “cracked”open. Within minutes, that sweltering environment can turn lethal for a child, whose body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult’s.
To prevent these tragedies, parents should take the following precautions:
- Never leave a child alone in parked car-never, not even for a minute. In many states, leaving a child in a car unattended is a criminal offense.
- Never leave your car without checking the backseat.
- Be sure that all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don’t overlook sleeping babies
- Arrange for your childcare provider to call if your child doesn’t arrive on time.
- Always lock your car, even in the garage or driveway.
- Teach your children that vehicles are never to be used as play areas.
- Keep car keys and remote control devices where children can’t get them.
- Call 911 if you see a child alone in a car.
Many people believe that something like this could never happen to them, but I know that it can happen to anyone. However, a few changes in behavior can make the difference between life and death.