Hot Weather On The Way: Don't Leave Kids In Hot Cars

Elderly Passengers, Pets Also At Risk

toddler girl carseat

With summer heat about to settle over the Southland this weekend and more young children being found inside hot cars, the Automobile Club of Southern California strongly caution parents, caregivers and motorists not to leave children alone in a closed vehicle and not to allow children to play in or around cars and trucks. The interior temperature of cars parked in direct sunlight can reach up to 123 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit when outside temperatures are 80 to 100 degrees. Heat stroke occurs when the body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit.


In California, 44 children died in cars from 1998-2015, the third-highest in the nation (based on population) for this time period, according to San Jose State University Dept. of Meteorology & Climate Science.  Nationwide, 673 children died from heat stroke after being left in unattended vehicles since 1998, with 12 deaths thus far in 2016.  Last year, 24 children died from heat stroke after being left in unattended vehicles.  On average, 37 children die in hot cars 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 die within minutes inside a hot vehicle and 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 Auto Club’s Manager of Community Programs & Traffic Safety Anita Lorz Villagrana. “Children should not be left in a car by an adult, or forgotten because of adult distraction.  If you see an unattended  child in a vehicle, call 9-1-1 immediately.”


The Auto Club receives on average 460 calls a month 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.  


Check the Back Seat for Children


"Make checking the back seat for children before you leave the car a routine whenever you exit a vehicle,” added Lorz Villagrana. According to California researchers about 54% of children in vehicles were forgotten by adults and 29% were playing in an unattended vehicle.


In Southern California, incidents where adults accidentally or deliberately left children in vehicles were reported last summer.  A Pomona girl, 3, was left in a vehicle after a family outing and died from heat-related accidental injury, according to the Pomona Police Dept. in news reports.  The parents and siblings said they believed the young girl exited the vehicle at the same time they did, according to police.  In Placentia, a woman was taken into custody last year when she left one child inside her car and left her other children playing in the parking lot while she  shopped.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) notes that heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash vehicle fatalities for children 14 and younger. In fact, one child dies from heatstroke nearly every 10 days from being left in a hot vehicle.  This week NHTSA conducted a day-long tweeting marathon about the dangers of heatstroke and tips for prevention using #HeatstrokeKills.


“Close calls” that do not result in death can cause serious injury, including permanent brain injury, blindness and loss of hearing, among others, according to health experts.


Shade, windows left partially open and tinted windows don’t lessen a closed car’s interior temperature threat, according to pediatric researchers. Doctors warn that when temperatures are in the low 80’s, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in just 10 minutes.  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 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.
  • 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.