July 15, 2022 – The death of a 3-year-old boy, found unresponsive after being left in a hot car, underscores 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 of his parents work. He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. The Miami-Dade County medical examiner confirmed the cause of death as hyperthermia, or abnormally high temperature, and ruled the death an accident, according to the Miami Herald. At the time of the child’s death, temperatures in South Florida had soared to 93 F with a heat index of 103, the report said.
“This was the 11th child, at least, to die this year in a hot car,” says Amber Rollins, director of Kids and Car Safety, a nonprofit group that aims to protect children and pets in and around cars. “These are predictable and preventable tragedies.”
No charges have been filed as the investigation continues.
Look Before You Lock
On average, 38 children under the age of 15 die each year heat stroke after being left in a vehicle, according to noheatstroke.org. While heat-related illness can affect anyone, children are at higher risk because their bodies warm up 3 to 5 times faster than an adult body. At least 917 children have died due to heatstroke in a vehicle since 1998, according to noheatstroke.org, which was created by Jan Null of the Department of Meteorology & Climate Science at San Jose State University.
That, along with the fact that the temperature inside a vehicle can rise 80% within 10 minutes, makes cars an especially 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 occur 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 suggests:
- Make sure the child is OK and responsive. If unresponsive, call 911 right away.
- If the child is unresponsive, try to get into the car and help the child, even if by breaking a window.
- Try to get another person to find the child’s guardian.
The Oven Effect
Even in mild climates, leaving a child in a closed vehicle can prove fatal. For example, a recent Consumer Reports test found that on 61-degree days, the temperature inside 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’ve got a recipe for disaster in a very short amount of time.”
One of the solutions to this problem lies in technology, especially in programs such as occupant detection, which sounds alerts if someone is left behind in a vehicle, Fennell and Rollins say.
“Until we have occupant detection, we will continue to see hot car deaths,” says Rollins. “All it takes is 1 day of forgetting or one distraction for this to happen to anyone, even the most loving and responsible parents.”
Beyond tech, parents should get into the habit of checking the back seat and locking parked cars to prevent curious children from wandering in. Experts also say that it’s good practice to put cellphones or bags in the back seat, a move that forces parents to turn around and check behind them when arriving at their destination.
“We need to raise so much awareness and education, and have parents take these steps so this doesn’t happen to their family,” Fennell says. “People like to create monsters out of the people this happens to, but this can and does happen to absolutely everyone.”