The alarm to parents and caregivers to never leave a child alone in a car sounded louder last week after three more children died of heatstroke in cars. As summer temperatures reach record highs across the country, these preventable tragedies remind us to be even more vigilant to prevent heatstroke from killing another child.
Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children under the age of 14. Since 1998, 545 children across the United States have died in cars from heatstroke, including 18 children this year.
More than half of these deaths occur when a driver forgets that the child is in the car. Experts will tell you this can happen to anybody. Our busy lifestyles create enough stress to trigger mental "lapses," which can bury a thought and cause your brain to go on autopilot. The lapses can affect something as simple as misplacing your keys or something as crucial as forgetting a baby.
Almost 30 percent of the time, children get into a car on their own. Kids love to pretend they're driving. They find a way into the car, but sometimes, they can't find a way out.
The third scenario is when someone intentionally leaves a child alone in a car. A parent might be running an errand and think, "The baby just fell asleep. I'll just be gone for a second." But seconds turn into minutes, and before you know it, the temperature inside of the car has reached lethal levels.
Many people are shocked to learn how hot the inside of a car can actually get. On an 80 degree day, the temperature inside of a car can rise 20 degrees in 10 minutes. You can only imagine what happens when the temperature outside is 100 degrees or more, as it has been in many places around the country this summer. And cracking the window doesn't help.
Heatstroke sets in when the body isn't able to cool itself quickly enough. Young children are particularly at risk as their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult's. When a child's internal temperature reaches 104 degrees, major organs begin to shut down. When that child's temperature reaches 107 degrees, the child can die. Heatstroke deaths have been recorded in 11 months of the year in nearly all 50 states. These tragedies can happen anytime, anywhere.
At Safe Kids, we're working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, led by Administrator David Strickland, and committed supporters such as the General Motors Foundation to spread the word about heatstroke and bring an end to these tragedies.
You might be asking yourself, "What type of person would let this happen?" Well, very often, they are loving, caring parents like Reggie McKinnon.
On a warm spring day in March 2010, Reggie took his 17-month-old baby, Payton Lyn, to the doctor to have her ears checked. The doctor's visit was a change to his normal schedule. After the appointment, Reggie's brain went to autopilot and he hurried back to work. At the end of the work day, Reggie opened his SUV. That's when he realized Payton was still in the car. She had died of heatstroke.
Reggie now dedicates his life to raising awareness about heatstroke.
"I made a promise to my sweet Payton that I would do everything I could to prevent this horror from ever happening to another innocent child," he said at a press conference in Orlando, Florida.
We can all help by remembering to these three things:
Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you're not in it so kids don't get in on their own.
Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car next to your child such as a briefcase, your purse, or your cell phone that is needed at your final destination. This is especially important if you're not following your normal routine.
Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations. One call could save a life.
We've got more information to share at safekids.org/heatstroke