Every summer, this headline pops up: Baby Dies in Hot Car. The news story sparks polar opposite reactions. Some people pity the family, particularly the responsible parent. Others are outraged and condemn a in their minds a an obviously negligent parent.
Babies and toddlers are most at risk for dying if left in a hot car. Child deaths as a result of vehicular hyperthermia, by age:
0 to 12 months: 31%
1 year old: 23%
2 years old: 20%
3 years old: 13%
4 years old: 6%
5 to 14 years old: 7%
Source: KidsAndCars.org, August 2012
In most of these cases, the parents or caregivers thought they had taken the child to daycare. But a change in routine or a litany of distractions caused them to forget to drop the child off.
So, they headed off to work with the child sleeping in the car seat, only to return later and find their child still in the back seat a unconscious or worse.
The cause of death is called vehicular hyperthermia, a form of heat stroke from being trapped inside a hot car, according to a report by the Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS).
Within just one hour, the interior of most vehicles left in the sun on a warm day can reach a scorching 180 degrees.
An infant or toddler can spin into heat stroke when the body temperature rises above 104 degrees. Infants and toddlers haven't developed the ability to fully regulate body temperatures. And because they're strapped to the car seat, they can't move.
In the worst-case scenario, the child may have delirium, a seizure, or go into a coma. The child can die within 15 minutes or four-and-a-half hours, reports JEMS. If the child survives, he or she will likely be brain dead.
Reckless Negligence Or Honest Mistake?
Of course, some of these tragedies include parents who knew the child was in the car and went to run errands.
But here's the truth: Not every parent who has left his child in the car on a hot day did so intentionally. In fact, all parents a particularly those with hectic mornings who are responsible for taking their children to school or daycare a risk making this mistake. And yes, it often is a mistake.
One common thread among these parents: They could not see the child in the rear-facing car seat. Most are professionals headed to work at the time the child was left in the back seat.
There's also an element of distraction in many of the stories, with the driver on the phone or a change in routine. In most cases, the daycare either didn't call to ask about the missing child or they called but couldn't reach the parents.
Raising Red Flags
More than three dozen deaths may not sound like a lot, but imagine how much higher that number would be if close calls were included.
That means the times when a stranger saw the child in the back seat before it was too late. Or when the baby started crying just before dad put the car in park. Or when mom just happened to look in the back seat before leaving the car and noticed the child still there.
If you're a parent, here are 5 steps to take to make sure this never happens to you, according to KidsAndCars.org:
- Make it a habit to check the back seat before leaving the vehicle. Leave your cell phone or purse there to ensure you open the door.
- Ask your childcare provider to call you if your child does not come without prior notice. Ensure that the childcare provider has the correct phone number to reach you.
- Avoid phone conversations, checking email, texting, and any other distractions during your drive to drop your children off at school or daycare.
- Drop the baby off first. If you need to get gas, drop off older kids, or run any other errands, try to do so after dropping the baby at daycare.
- Get some sleep. Sleep may seem like a luxury for new parents, but exhaustion is one of the primary drivers of a failed memory.
If you're a parent who could never see yourself leaving your child in the back seat, make sure you know what to do if you see someone else's child in a hot car.
Here are 5 steps to take, according to the Journal of Emergency Medical Services:
- Call 911. Let them know that a child is unattended in a hot car and may be at risk for hyperthermia.
- While waiting for emergency medical help, get the child out of the vehicle.
- Take off all of the child's clothes and get her to a room with a fan or air conditioning. You can also fan the child manually.
- Splash the child with room-temperature water, not cold water.
- Follow any additional instructions from the 911 dispatcher until medical help arrives.