Since 1990, more than 900 children have died in the U.S. in hot cars.
It averages out to 38 children a year. (In comparison about 800 children ages newborn to 12 die every year in car crashes and about 3,000 pregnancies are lost every year in car crashes. There is more to be done on those fronts as well.)
About 30% of annual hot car deaths are children who got into the car themselves and for one reason or another got stuck inside. Kids body temperature 3 to 5 times faster than an adult’s, rising to a deadly temperature within minutes.
Why is the rate steady or even increasing?
While it may seem a likely correlation that the introduction of airbags sending kids to the back seat ended up with an increase in hot car deaths. I think that might only be a part of the picture. After all air bags weren’t standard equipment until the late 1980s. Meanwhile the safety benefits of rear seating were reported by scientists as early as 1977.
There are still many states that don’t require by law that children sit in the rear seat. Is it safer? Yes! Do all the safety experts recommend it? Yes. Do all parents follow that recommendation? No.
I think what’s often missed is a cultural factor. The time and mileage spent on the road has steadily increased and more dramatically so for women (which is also why protecting yourself adequately when driving during pregnancy is becoming more of an issue). People are busier. Generally speaking parents rush here and there more compared to parents in the 70s and 80s. Parents are stressed and tired.
“But I would never…”
If you read hot car death stories, often times the parent who “forgot” their child had a change in routine. For instance, mom usually drops off at daycare but was sick so dad was dropping off but once in the car, dad went on auto pilot and drove to work. Baby was asleep or quiet and dad got out of the car and went to work like any other day. Not even realizing anything was amiss.
Just like no one thinks they’ll get into a crash, no one thinks they will forget their child in the car. But you just never know. It happens to really smart, caring parents who love their child. It can happen to anyone. No parent should think it couldn’t happen to them.
For instance, when our first son was a newborn, my husband forgot him in the car. It was just a few minutes before he remembered and went to get him. But this is a loving father and he was a firefighter/paramedic and a trained car seat technician at the time. (He talks about this incident here.)
Prevent Hot Car Deaths
Since many people think they would never forget their child, they don’t feel like they need to take preventative measures. Though there are plenty of options available like apps or reminder devices.
Or simply putting something you’ll need when you get where you are going like your purse or phone. When people hear this, they often reply “you need your child.” Yes, you do need your child. And when you are going to work you don’t typically bring your child to work and you don’t need your child at work. So if you are going to work, what will you need at work? Your purse, your phone, your shoe? You won’t leave your car and walk into work without a shoe, put your left shoe in the back seat.
The fact that many parents believe it won’t happen to them so don’t take preventative measure is the reason behind Kids and Cars’ push for legislation to require car manufacturers to add alert systems in new vehicles.
By Amie Durocher, Creative Director at Safe Ride 4 Kids and certified CPS Tech since 2004
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