Kids are still dying in hot cars in alarming numbers. And one professor thinks he knows why.
Every time a child dies in a hot car incident, I find myself thinking: Why? How?
According to a new report published by the National Safety Council on June 6, 2018, 37 children die from being left in hot cars each year on average, and body temperature has a lot to do with it. Children's bodies heat up much faster than adults' do, according to the researchers, and children's internal organs begin to shut down once their core body temperature reaches 104 degrees. And on an 86-degree day, for example, it would take only about 10 minutes for the inside of a car to reach a dangerous 105 degrees, researchers said.
For years, hot car deaths have been an ongoing issue. According to 2016 article in the The Washington Post, a heartbreaking 682 children have died in hot cars in the past 15 years; half were under the age of 2, and perhaps sleeping, or unable to speak up about being left behind. But meteorologist and professor at San Jose State University named Jan Null explained that, regardless of age, "Every one of these [deaths] can be prevented."
You would think far fewer of these grave tragedies would in fact be taking place, given that stories of vehicular heatstroke often make national headlines. And Null says that has helped a bit. But one way to force change is to get more laws passed in more states that make it illegal to leave a child alone in a vehicle. "There's only 20 states that have laws against leaving a child unattended in a car," Null said.
But here's what's truly troubling: Before the late '90s, only about 12 kids died in hot cars annually. And although one would think with advances in safety technology we'd see fewer hot car deaths (i.e. GMC's latest Acadias come equipped with a Rear Seat Reminder option), the exact opposite is happening. According to Null, the inclusion of air bags in front seats (so that children cannot sit up front safely) and the current recommendation that children sit in rear-facing car seats until age 2 are two factors behind the upward trend.
In other words, Null says parents are forgetting their kids in the car, and the data supports that theory. "A whole range of people can get distracted and leave their child in the car. It can happen to anybody," he says, adding a car can heat up surprisingly fast, and that death can occur in as quickly as 20 minutes.
"[The car] is basically a greenhouse, and it's a very effective greenhouse," Null explains, adding that kids' bodies tend to heat up faster than adults'.
Null cautions parents that even on moderately hot days, a car can heat up enough to cause death if a child is left inside. In fact, the temperature inside a vehicle can rise to 40 degrees hotter than the air temperature outside, and even leaving a window cracked wouldn't help in a significant way.
The takeaway: "Our children are our most vulnerable passengers and we cannot leave them alone in vehicles—not even for a minute,” said Amy Artuso, the National Safety Council's senior program manager of advocacy. “This report should serve as a wake-up call to look before we lock."
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.