Every year, horrifying stories appear in the news about young children dying of heatstroke in hot cars. Sadly, despite widespread media coverage and educational efforts by organizations such as the National Safety Council, this epidemic — one of the leading causes of vehicular death for children under 15 (second only to crashes) — is not going away. In 2018, 51 children died of pediatric vehicular heatstroke, making it the deadliest year on record.
Many parents believe this is something that just won’t happen to them. That “forgetting” a child is an issue of negligence. This is a dangerous mindset. As quoted in USA Today, psychologist Gene Brewer of Arizona State University said, “Often these stories involve a distracted parent. . . . Memory failures are remarkably powerful, and they can happen to anyone. There is no difference between gender, class, personality, race, or other traits.”
There were few hot car deaths before the 1990s. That’s when states began mandating that children sit in the back seat to avoid injury from airbags. And when someone is out of sight, it’s much easier to forget they are there. When people get in the car for their daily commute, their brains go on autopilot, and a change in routine — like having a child in the back seat — may be forgotten.
Cars Are Like Greenhouses
So you’ve heard the stories about kids being inadvertently left in a hot car for hours with tragic results, but what about letting them (or a pet) stay in your vehicle while you run into the store? This is risky behavior and, if the child is under seven and you are gone for more than five minutes, is illegal under Texas state law.
- Vehicles act as greenhouses, trapping heat inside. Even with windows slightly open, a car’s internal temperature can reach 125 degrees in a matter of minutes.
- The car heats up most rapidly in the first ten minutes.
- Cracking the windows open does not prevent the vehicle from overheating.
- This is not just a hot-weather issue. Kids have died from vehicular heatstroke with outside temperatures as low as 60 degrees.
How to Prevent Hot Car Deaths
The organization KidsandCars.org has a list of safety tips to help prevent parents from leaving their kids behind in the car.
- Open the back doors every time you park to ensure no one is there. Make it a habit.
- Always put something you need for your day in the back seat, like your purse, phone, or employee ID.
- Request that your child care provider call you if you don’t drop your kid off as scheduled.
- Communicate with your partner or other family members to ensure everyone knows who is responsible for the children, and when.
- Keep vehicles locked when parked so little ones can’t climb inside and get trapped.
- Once they are old enough, teach your kids to honk the horn if they can’t get out.
- Keep car keys out of reach of children.
- If you see a young child alone in a car, call 911.
Chip Evans and his associates at the Evans & Herlihy Law Firm are experienced personal injury lawyers who fight for their clients. If you’d like to schedule a consultation, call us today.