Deadly Summer Heat can Take A Child’s Life if Unattended in A Vehicle


Summer is almost here and while this brings time spent enjoying outdoor activities, it also means increasingly high temperatures. As the days get hotter, it’s important to be aware of the dangers that can result from hot vehicles—particularly to children.

According to KidsAndCars.org vehicular heat stroke is largely misunderstood by the general public. The majority of parents would like to believe that they could never “forget” their child in the backseat of a vehicle. This is a dangerous mistake. On average, according to the organization, 37 U.S. children die in hot cars every year—that’s approximately one every nine days. Eighty-seven percent of these children are 3 years old or younger.

Take a Closer Look

A recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that from 1998 to 2014, 636 children died from heatstroke after being trapped in an enclosed vehicle.

“Any time a child is left unattended in a vehicle, that child is in danger of injury, harassment, abduction or dehydration,” said David L. Hughes, president and CEO of AAA North Jersey. “Even on pleasant spring days when the outside temperature hovers in the mid-60s, the temperature inside a closed vehicle can quickly reach 110 degrees.”

Why Do Cars Get So Hot?

Why does the inside of the car heat up so much? According to the Planet Hyundai official blog, cars heat up differently depending on whether or not the windows are closed and if they’re parked in the sun or not.

When the car windows are closed the car heats up the most significantly. This is because the sun heats the air inside the vehicle and has nowhere to go. The result is known as a greenhouse effect scenario. In ten minutes the interior temperature can reach 110 degrees or higher. After a half hour the temperature could go as high as 120 degrees, and will continue to increase.

This can be deadly to children left inside a vehicle. Children can suffer heatstroke when their internal body temperature reaches 107 degrees.

VIDEO: How Fast a Car Heats Up.

By the Numbers

According to data compiled by the NHTSA study, the reasons for heatstroke-related child deaths resulted from:

  • Child “forgotten” by caregiver (53 percent);
  • Child playing in unattended vehicle (29 percent);
  • Child intentionally left in a vehicle by adult (17 percent); and
  • Unknown cases (1 percent).

“Most people know that they should never leave a child alone in a vehicle, but even the most loving parents or caregivers can make a mistake,” said Chuck Shotmeyer, chairperson of AAA North Jersey’s board of directors. “It’s in our best interests to follow a few simple steps to keep innocent mistakes from having tragic consequences.”

AAA Safe Seats 4 Kids says to remember to “ACT”:

  • Avoid heatstroke related injury and death by never leaving a child alone in a car, even for a minute.
  • Create reminders and habits that give you and any caregivers a safety net. Leave an item needed at your next stop in the back seat so you don’t forget about your loved one.
  • Take action if you see an unattended child or pet in a vehicle. Dial 911 and follow the instructions of emergency personnel. Some state laws protect Good Samaritans who break into a car to save a life.

Don’t Forget Animals

Keep your pets happy–never leave them unattended in a vehicle.

There are also concerns with leaving pets locked in hot vehicles. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), pets can sustain brain damage or even die from heatstroke in just 15 minutes. Dogs can only cool themselves by panting and sweating through their paw pads, so beating the heat inside a hot vehicle is particularly tough.

If you see a dog left alone in a hot car, PETA advises taking down the car’s color, model, make, and license plate number. You can have the owner paged in the nearby buildings, or call local humane authorities or police. If you leave the scene, be sure and have someone keep an eye on the dog.

Be Prepared to Take Action

According to noheatstroke.org, only 20 U.S. states have laws making it illegal to leave a child unattended in a vehicle. Several other states have proposed legislation. Ten states have Good Samaritan laws specific to rescuing children in cars. These make it okay to break someone’s window to help the child inside.

One auto glass company has taken action to help in these cases. Cornwall Windscreens in the U.K. has a special offer for anyone who smashes a window to save pet inside a hot vehicle (at the time this blog was published). The company will pay the cost of the replacement glass to anyone in the “unlikely position” of having to pay for window repairs as a result of rescuing an overheating animal from a car. The company will also double the price for any owner who has to pay for the damage, with profits going to animal charities.

What should you do if you see a child left alone in a hot car? If you’re worried a child or animal is in danger—especially on hot days—always err on the side of caution and call 911.

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Plan Ahead

As we move closer to summer months and warm weather, your car can afford you plenty of opportunities to enjoy the season. Many people will enjoy opening the sunroof and rolling down the windows when the weather is nice. If you’re looking for more on automotive glass services, information or resources, Glass.com has everything you need. Browse and search our “Info Center” to find answers to the questions you may have.

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