July 15, 2022 – The death of a 3-year-old boy, who became unresponsive after being left in a hot car, highlights the danger of leaving a child alone in a vehicle as temperatures rise.
The child was found Monday outside the Lubavitch Educational Center in Miami Gardens, FL, a school where both his parents work. He was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. The Miami-Dade County medical examiner confirmed the cause of death as hyperthermia or abnormally high temperature, and ruled that the death was an accident, according to the Miami Herald. At the time of the child’s death, temperatures in South Florida had risen to 93 F with a heat index of 103, the report said.
“In any case, this was the 11th child to have died in a hot car this year,” said Amber Rollins, director of Kids and Car Safety, a nonprofit that aims to protect children and pets in and around cars. “These are predictable and avoidable tragedies.”
No charges have been filed while the investigation continues.
Look before you lock
According to noheatstroke.org, an average of 38 children under the age of 15 die from heatstroke each year after being left in a vehicle. While heat-related illness can affect anyone, children are at greater risk because their bodies warm up 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s. According to noheatstroke.org, created by Jan Null of the Department of Meteorology & Climate Science at San Jose State University, at least 917 children have died since 1998 as a result of heatstroke in a vehicle.
That, along with the fact that the temperature inside a vehicle can rise 80% within 10 minutes, makes cars a particularly dangerous place for children, says Janette Fennell, president and founder of Kids and Car Safety. This extreme temperature spike proves fatal when a child’s internal body temperature reaches 107 F, something that can happen within minutes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Many states have Good Samaritan laws that protect people who take action to help a child left in a car. If you see a child left in a car, the agency will suggest the following:
- Make sure the child is okay and responsive. If you don’t respond, call 911 right away.
- If the child does not respond, try to get in the car and help the child, even by smashing a window.
- Try to have someone else find the child’s guardian.
The oven effect
Even in mild climates, leaving a child in a locked vehicle can be fatal. For example a recent Consumer Reports test found that on 61-degree days, the temperature in a closed car reached 105 F in just 1 hour.
“It doesn’t have to be a super hot day because a vehicle acts like a greenhouse and heats up very quickly,” says Rollins. “You have a recipe for disaster in a very short time.”
One of the solutions to this problem lies in technology, especially in programs such as occupant detection, which sound alerts if someone is left in a vehicle, Fennell and Rollins say.
“Until we have occupant detection, we will continue to see hot car deaths,” Rollins says. “All it takes is one day of forgetting or one distraction for this to happen to everyone, even the most loving and responsible parents.”
In addition to technology, parents should get into the habit of checking the back seats and locking parked cars to prevent curious kids from wandering in. Experts also say it’s good practice to put cell phones or bags in the back seat, a move that forces parents to turn around and look behind them when they arrive at their destination.
“We need to create so much awareness and education and let parents take these steps so that this doesn’t happen to their families,” says Fennell. “People like to make monsters of the people this happens to, but this can and does happen to absolutely anyone.”
Read more about hot car deaths and prevention here.