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Auto Club Warns Hot Cars Can Be Death Traps For Kids And Pets

Hot temperatures inside car by SafeKids
Image courtesy of SafeKids Worldwide

With summer temperatures expected to climb again in this weekend, the Automobile Club of Southern California is warning about the danger of accidentally leaving children and pets inside hot cars. Since 1998 in the Golden State alone, 48 children have died after being found inside hot vehicles. The most recent death in California occurred last September in the Bay area when a 19-month-old was left in the back seat of a hot car by a family member.

In Florida on Monday, a daycare employee found a 2-year-old dead inside a hot transport van in front of the facility and in New York last weekend, twin infants died in a hot car after being left in a vehicle. Nationwide, 818 children have died from heat stroke after being left in unattended vehicles since 1998, with 24 deaths so far in 2019.

The Auto Club reminds parents and drivers to never leave children or pets alone in a vehicle, create reminders when transporting children and to not allow children to play in or around unlocked vehicles. Within minutes, the interior temperature of cars parked in direct sunlight can reach up to 133 degrees Fahrenheit when the outside temperature is 90 degrees.

Parking in the shade, leaving windows partially open and tinted windows do not lessen a closed car’s interior temperature threat, according to pediatric researchers. Heat stroke occurs when the body temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit. A child’s body isn’t as efficient as an adult’s and warms 3-5 times faster, leading to dehydration and heatstroke.  

California has the third-highest number of hot vehicle deaths in the nation (based on population), according to San Jose State University Dept. of Meteorology & Climate Science. On average, 38 children die each year in the U.S. after being trapped inside motor vehicles. The Auto Club reminds parents and caregivers that California law makes it illegal to leave children unattended in a car or truck.

“Children under age four are most at risk for being forgotten about in a car because they are restrained in car seats and often fall asleep during car rides," said Anita Lorz Villagrana, Auto Club Manager of Community Programs & Traffic Safety. “However, heat-related deaths can occur to children of all ages, and they can happen in less than fifteen minutes. Always, look before you lock to prevent these tragedies.”

According to California researchers, more than half (54%) of the children who die in hot vehicles are accidentally left behind by adults and about 26% of the fatalities occur because a child was playing in an unattended vehicle.

Animals are equally impacted by summer heat. Dogs are not able to sweat like humans do, but instead cool themselves by panting and sweating through their paws. If they only have overheated air to breathe, they can collapse, suffer brain damage and die of heatstroke.

The Auto Club receives an average of 460 calls a month in Southern California after someone accidently locks a child or pet inside a vehicle along with the car keys, according to 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. 

The Auto Club offers parents and drivers these additional tips to prevent tragedies:

  •  Never leave a child, elderly person or pet in the car alone, not even for a minute. 
  •  Create reminders for yourself and caregivers by putting something you need at your next destination in the backseat. For example, a cell phone, purse, wallet, briefcase or a shoe.
  •  Never leave car keys or car remote where children can get to them.
  •  Always keep doors and windows locked to prevent kids from playing inside a vehicle and teach them not to play in or around vehicles.
  • 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.
  • Download apps that have “child reminder” features that tell users to check their car after they arrive at their destination.
  • If a child is missing, check the car immediately, including the trunk. 
  • Take action if you see an unattended child or pet in a vehicle. Call 9-1-1 right away and follow the instructions of the emergency personnel.
CST 1016202-80 Copyright © Automobile Club of Southern California. All Rights Reserved.
The Automobile Club of Southern California is a member club affiliated with the American Automobile Association (AAA) national federation and serves members in the following California counties: Inyo, Imperial, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Tulare, and Ventura.