AMES, Iowa – Every year, children die from being left in hot cars. According to the nonprofit safety group Kids and Cars, more than 600 U.S. children have died from overheating in a parked vehicle since 1990.
“The tragedy of a child dying in a hot car can be prevented. Parents and caregivers need to set up a system that reduces the risk,” says Malisa Rader, an Iowa State University Extension and Outreach family life program specialist.
Most of those deaths happen as loving, responsible parents unintentionally leave a child in the backseat in a rear-facing car seat. The backseat is the safest place for children to travel, but this can lead to a child being out of a driver’s sight, Rader said
“Add to that a sleeping baby, a bit of stress or an unusual morning routine,” Rader said, “and the risk increases of forgetting to drop a child off at child care.” Running late, someone different dropping the child off, new work routines or traffic detours – each of these changes from the normal routine could potentially lead to the unthinkable happening.
The sun shining through car windows makes the car work like an oven. In just 10 minutes a car’s temperature can increase by 19 degrees and it continues to rise as time goes on. Children are more at risk for heat-related illness than adults, because their bodies make more heat relative to their size and they have not fully developed the capacity to perspire like adults. As a result, this makes being locked in a warm car, for even a short time, potentially fatal.
The results of a recent survey published on the SafeKids.org website stated that 11 percent of parents admit to forgetting their child in a car. Most likely due to the change in routine, dads are nearly three times more likely than moms to leave a child in a parked car.
“A simple reminder is to place something you will be needing in the back seat with your child like a cell phone, purse or laptop,” Rader said. Some safety groups urge parents to place their left shoe in the back seat before driving – a clear reminder when getting out of the car that there is precious cargo in the backseat.
Rader offers these additional suggestions to reduce the risk of forgetting a sleeping child in the car.
“Creating multiple safety nets around transporting children will help to ensure safe arrivals,” Rader said. “So, be sure to slow down and pay attention to routines, especially when there is a change in the typical procedure.” Become vigilant about looking in the vehicle before locking the door. Always look in the backseat before walking away from the vehicle — always.
Iowans can call ISU Extension and Outreach’s Iowa Concern Hotline, 800-447-1985, for help and referrals for dealing with stress, crisis and loss.