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Rachael Zimlich is a freelance writer in Cleveland, Ohio. She writes regularly for Contemporary Pediatrics, Managed Healthcare Executive, and Medical Economics.
The number of children dying in hot cars is on the rise, but the National Safety Council has developed a new tool to help parents understand heatstroke and avoid tragedy.
The number of children dying from being left in hot cars is on the rise, and the National Safety Council (NSC) is taking steps to avoid another record-setting year.
According to the NSC, more children died in hot cars in 2018 than any other year on record, with 52 children dying from pediatric vehicular heatstroke. To combat this alarming trend, the NSC developed a free online training tool that outlines the dangers of hot cars. The training course reveals that the temperature inside cars can exceed outside temperatures by as much as 50°F, with temperature rising the fastest in the first 30 minutes.1 Heatstroke can happen even when it might not seem that hot outside, the NSC notes, with heatstroke occurring when outside temperatures are just 57°F.
Data from the NSC show that 53.8% of vehicular heatstroke deaths occurred when children were forgotten in cars; 26.3% occurred when children gained access to cars and became trapped inside; and 18.6% were attributed to children being knowingly left in vehicles.
Valuable resource for caregivers
The goal of the training course is to alert parents about the dangers of hot cars, and it takes just 15 minutes to complete. The course includes safety tips to avoid heatstroke deaths, such as sticking to routines to avoid forgetting a child in a vehicle; keeping doors locked so that children can’t gain access to an unattended vehicle; and teaching children that cars are not play areas.
David Diamond, PhD, professor, Department of Psychology, Cognitive, Neural, and Social Division, at the University of South Florida, Tampa, says the training course is a fantastic resource for parents to use to avoid heatstroke tragedies.
“The guidelines are all evidence based and objectively provide effective strategies to protect children from being left in cars,” Diamond says. “The video of the father is a powerful message to all people who demonize people who leave children in cars to realize that it can happen to everyone.”
The training course isn’t just a resource for parents and caregivers, however. Pediatricians should regularly remind parents about vehicle safety measures, and can recommend the training course to families.
“I hope pediatricians will take this message to heart and emphasize to new parents that failure of memory is not a failure of love for a child, that it can happen to anyone,” Diamond says.
The training course follows the release of the NSC’s 2018 "Kids in Hot Cars: A Legislative Look Across the US" report on pediatric vehicular heatstroke, which revealed that an average of 37 children die each year in hot cars.2 A jump in these deaths to 42 in 2017 from 39 the previous year spurred the report, but apparently the number still has continued to climb. The aim of the legislative report was to support stronger laws to prevent pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths, encourage additional policies for childcare providers, and to increase awareness of the danger o rising temperatures inside vehicles.
Technology can help reduce deaths
The NSC suggests there is more room for technology in preventing heatstroke deaths in cars, such as reminders that sound alarms and display dashboard messages to check the rear seats of vehicles, as well as car seat alarms that remind drivers to check car seats when exiting vehicles.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also offers resources on avoiding pediatric vehicular heatstroke, revealing that heatstroke is the leading cause of non–crash, vehicle-related deaths for children aged younger than 15 years.3 The AAP warns that children’s bodies heat 5 times faster than adults, and children can die from heatstroke when their body temperature reaches 107°F.
1. National Safety Council. Children in Hot Cars. Available at: https://training.nsc.org/hot-cars/. Published 2019. Accessed May 31, 2019.
2. National Safety Council. Kids in Hot Cars: A Legislative Look Across the US. Available at: https://safety.nsc.org/kids-in-hot-cars-report. Published 2018. Accessed May 31, 2019.
3, American Academy of Pediatrics. Prevent child deaths in hot cars. HealthyChildren.org website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/on-the-go/Pages/Prevent-Child-Deaths-in-Hot-Cars.aspx. Updated July 18, 2018. Accessed May 31, 2019.