With summer heat barreling into the Southland and the deaths of 45 California children since 1998 as a result of being found inside hot cars, the Automobile Club of Southern California strongly urges parents, caregivers and motorists not to leave children alone in a closed vehicle and not to allow children to play in or around unlocked cars and trucks.
Within minutes, the interior temperature of cars parked in direct sunlight can reach up to 133 degrees Fahrenheit when outside temperatures are 90 degrees. Heat stroke occurs when the body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
California has the third-highest number of deaths in the nation (based on population) from 1998 to now, according to San Jose State University Dept. of Meteorology & Climate Science. During that time, nationwide 761 children died from heat stroke after being left in unattended vehicles since 1998, with 18 deaths thus far in 2018. Last year, 43 children died from heat stroke after being left in unattended vehicles. On average, 37 children die each year from heatstroke after being trapped inside motor vehicles, according to San Jose State data.
The Auto Club reminds parents and caregivers that children can overheat and die within minutes inside a hot vehicle. California law makes it illegal to leave children unattended in a car or truck. “We may be going to be inside a store for ‘just a few minutes,’ but children under age four are the most at-risk for having their lives endangered by being left in a hot car,” said Anita Lorz Villagrana, the Auto Club’s Manager of Community Programs & Traffic Safety. “Children should not be left in a car or forgotten because of distraction or perceived urgency. If you see a child alone in a vehicle, call 9-1-1 immediately,” she urged.
“Close calls” that do not result in death can cause serious injury, including permanent brain injury, blindness and loss of hearing, among others, she added.
Check the Back Seat for Children
“Hot car heatstroke deaths are highly preventable. Make it part of your routine to check the back seat for children before you leave the car and whenever you exit a vehicle,” added Lorz Villagrana. According to California researchers about 54% of children who died in vehicles (400) were forgotten by adults and 27% were playing in an unattended vehicle.
Children also can be locked inside a vehicle inadvertently. The Auto Club receives on average 460 calls a month in Southern California where someone accidently locked a child inside a vehicle along with the car keys, according to its roadside assistance data. The Auto Club makes these calls for help a top priority by contacting 9-1-1 and dispatching a service truck immediately.
In Southern California, a woman was arrested in June after she left a child, 6, in a vehicle and then spent hours running errands and eating in a restaurant, according to police in news reports. Alhambra police rescued the boy and said the interior of the vehicle had reached 120 degrees.
To help to prevention these tragedies, the HOT CARS Act of 2017 was passed last year to require auto manufactures to build cars with a system to alerting drivers if a child is left in the back seat after the car ignition is off.
Shade, windows left partially open and tinted windows don’t lessen a closed car’s interior temperature threat, according to pediatric researchers. A child’s body isn’t as efficient as an adult’s and warms 3-5 times faster leading to dehydration and heatstroke.
The Auto Club urges motorists to ACT:
- A—Avoid heatstroke by never leaving a child in the car alone, not even for a minute.
- C—Create reminders by putting something in the backseat. For example, a cell phone, purse, wallet, briefcase or shoes. Never leave car keys or car remote where children can get to them.
- T—Take action and immediately call 9-1-1- if you notice a child unattended in a car.
- Always keep doors and windows locked to prevent kids from playing inside a vehicle.
- Never leave a child unattended in a car, even if windows are tinted, cracked open or down. Never leave elderly people or pets in vehicles either.
- Develop “look before leaving” routines. Ensure all kids exit the vehicle at your destination.
- Develop a daycare drop-off plan so that if your child is late or isn’t at daycare, you’ll be called within a few minutes. Some children have been left in office parking lots by distracted adults forgetting to drop them off at day care.
- Technology may be able to help. Mobile traffic app Waze has added a "child reminder" option that tells users to check their car for children, pets and loved ones when they arrive at their destination.
- If a child is missing, check the car, including the trunk. If you have a pool, check there first, according to safety experts.
- Teach children that a car or truck is not a play area.
- Don’t treat heatstroke at home with cold water or cooling the child in a tub of water. Only a specialist should treat heatstroke. Seek medical treatment immediately.