Every year as temperatures rise, experts warn parents of the risks of leaving children alone in cars. Approximately 39 children under the age of 15 die every year from heatstroke caused by sitting in a hot vehicle. A child’s body is not able to regulate its temperature as efficiently as adults, meaning that a child can overheat three to five times faster than an adult.
The internal temperature of a car can rise quickly, up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit in a few minutes, even when the weather is mild or cloudy. Opening a window or keeping the air conditioning on is not an effective way to control the internal temperature once the car motor is off. Caregivers should never, under any circumstances, leave a child unattended in a vehicle.
Most of these deaths occur when a caregiver accidentally forgets that a child is in the backseat of their car. Experts warn that it can happen to anyone, especially to tired and stressed caregivers. A change in routine can also lead to memory lapses. To avoid forgetting a child in the backseat, parents should create visual reminders, such as placing the child’s bag in the front seat, and keep their personal belongings in the back which forces them to always look in the backseat. Additionally, caregivers should always keep their parked vehicle locked and teach children to never go into an unattended car because some of these deaths result from children wandering into cars and accidentally locking themselves in.
Fortunately, 2020 has seen a lower number than usual in child fatalities caused by hot cars. This is could be an effect of the pandemic, since more people are staying at home and normal routines have been disrupted. However, these same factors can also pose a problem – parents out of a routine may forget their child is with them or they may leave their child in the car while running errands to prevent exposure to COVID-19. But even COVID-19 concerns do not warrant leaving a child in a car. If at any time you see a child alone in a car, call 911 immediately.