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Look Before You Lock: Auto Club Warns About Leaving Kids In Hot Cars

Hot temperatures inside car by SafeKids
Image courtesy of SafeKids Worldwide

With summer heat settled over the Southland and more young children being found inside hot cars, the Automobile Club of Southern California is strongly cautioning 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. On average, 38 children die in hot cars each year from heat-related deaths after being trapped inside motor vehicles, according to San Francisco State University data.


The Auto Club reminds parents and caregivers on National Heatstroke Prevention Day that children can die within minutes inside a hot vehicle and that California law makes it illegal to leave children unattended in a car or truck.


“Make it a routine to look and check the back seat for children before you leave the car,” said Auto Club Manager of Community Programs and Traffic Safety Anita Lorz Villagrana.  About 51 percent of child hot car deaths in vehicles were caused by adults forgetting the children, and 29 percent of victims were playing in an unattended vehicle, according to California researchers.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 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 after being left in a hot vehicle.


Nationwide, 624 children died from heat stroke after being left in unattended vehicles since 1998, with 18 deaths thus far in 2014.  Last year, 44 children died from heat stroke after being left in unattended vehicles. In California, 40 children died in cars from 1998-2013. Just this week a Fullerton couple was arrested at the Brea Mall on suspicion of leaving their 3-year-old in their hot car while they went inside the shopping center. This spring, a child died in Bakersfield due to playing in an unattended vehicle; another child died in San Jose strapped in a car seat inside an SUV after the father thought he’d dropped the child off at the babysitter.


“We think that we’re only going to be inside a store for 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 Villagrana. “Children should not be left in a car by an adult, or forgotten because of an adult’s distraction.  If you see an unattended child in a vehicle, call 9-1-1 immediately.”


Shaded parking, cracking windows open and tinted windows don’t lessen the interior temperature of a closed car, according to pediatric researchers. Doctors warn that if it’s a 90-degree day, it could be at least a life-threatening 130 degrees inside a car.  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:


  • Immediately call 9-1-1- if you notice a child locked unattended in a car.


  • Never leave car keys or a car remote where children can get to them.


  • 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.


  • Develop “look before leaving” routines.  Ensure all kids exit the vehicle at your destination.


  • Create an electronic device reminder to make sure you dropped your child off at daycare.


  • Leave something needed for the day in the back seat with your baby – a briefcase, purse or your day’s shoe(s).


  • 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 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. 


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.