A needless tragedy claimed the life of a child in the Nashville-area this week. After being left alone in a car, a 3-year-old Smyrna boy died of heatstroke. His father was subsequently arrested for aggravated child abuse and neglect. Sadly, this marks the 20th child to die in a hot car in 2019.
Since 1990, Tennessee has had 32 children die in hot cars, according to KidsandCars.org.
This also includes another toddler that died in a vehicle in Morristown on June 28, 2019. Nation-wide, more than 900 children have died in hot cars since 1990.
It is time to do something.
This loss of life is not only devastating, but also totally preventable. As we approach the peak of summer, parents and caregivers need to be sure they are aware of these tragedies and understand the simple takes they can take to prevent them from occurring.
On average each year 38 children needlessly die from heatstroke as a result of being trapped in hot cars. 2018 was the worst year in history for child hot car deaths with a total of 52 children dying nationwide. Nearly 90% of these fatalities occur in children under the age of 3. Temperatures inside vehicles can climb to over 125 degrees in a matter of minutes – and cracking the windows simply does not help.
These deaths are preventable and by incorporating a few simple steps we can avoid these tragedies:
- Look Before You Lock: Make a habit of opening the back door and checking the back seat every time you leave your vehicle, even if you believe your spouse has your child.
- Place an item you cannot start your day without (computer, cell phone, employee badge, etc.) on the floorboard in front of your child’s car seat. This helps to form a habit so you will automatically open the back car door and check the back seat every time you arrive at your destination.
- Make sure child care providers call you if your child doesn’t show up as scheduled.
- Never leave a child alone in a car, not even for a minute.
- Clearly communicate who is getting each child out of the vehicle when more than one adult is present and always do a headcount of children.
- Keep cars locked and keys out of reach of children at all times to prevent children from getting in a vehicle on their own.
Please share these tips with others – including friends, family, and new parents. Knowledge is power and these tips may end up saving a life.
Technology can also play a role in reducing these deaths, especially in an era of self-driving cars and vehicles that remind us that we have left doors unlocked or lights on. Driver reminder systems in cars already are used for several components such as headlights, keys, seatbelts and doors.
The Hot Cars Act has been introduced in Congress to attempt to incorporate life-saving technology into vehicles.
The Act would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue a final rule for a system to be included as standard equipment in all vehicles that could detect the presence of a child or animal and warn the driver. The Hot Cars Act of 2019 (H.R. 3593) was introduced in the House by Representatives Tim Ryan (D-OH), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Peter King (R-NY). On May 22, 2019, the Senate introduced their version of the bill, S. 1601 which was sponsored by Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA).
I strongly feel that it is our duty to protect children. I am grateful for the jurisdictions that have passed legislation that provides protection to those that take action by breaking car windows, to save the lives of children (and pets) trapped in hot vehicles. If you find yourself in a situation where you witness a child or pet inside a hot car, call 911 immediately and have the emergency dispatcher walk you through the steps you should take.
* * *
Andrew, thank you for taking time to post this (tragically) preventative article. One thing I may add, concerning potential avoidance steps to take, to your list:
Train your child.
I've actually practiced with my son (now 4) on how to unlock the car from the inside, pull the lever and open the door. He always wants to play in my car, so I roll the windows down and let him run loose. One day it occurred to me, he may find himself in a bad situation and if he knows what to do, who knows, it could save his life.
So I began training him (repeatedly) on how to get out. He now has no problem knowing what to look for (the unlock button), to push it first, then pull the lever with one hand and open with the other.
I've practiced it in my car and my wife's and he is fully trained. Just an additional thought for parents to consider.