Heatstroke after being left in a hot vehicle is a persistent and recurring problem for children in the United States. On average, 39 under the age of 15 die each year, and in recent years this country “set painful records” — 2018 was the deadliest year in the past 20 years for the number of children who died in hot vehicles.
Those are the highlights of an advisory issued by the National Safety Council to warn about the dangers of pediatric vehicular heatstroke and how to prevent it.
“In an era where we never forget our cell phones, we are too frequently forgetting our most precious passengers,” the nonprofit advocacy group said in a statement on Tuesday, timed to correspond with rising temperatures as summer sets in and the reopening in many states after the coronavirus lockdown. “By taking steps to prevent pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths, we can all help the U.S. avoid surpassing one of the saddest records in roadway safety history.”
The safety group explained that pediatric heatstroke deaths in hot vehicles typically occur when a parent, family member or other caregiver forgets a child; when a child gains entry on his or her own; or when someone knowingly leaves a child unattended.
“Often when caregivers forget a child, they are outside of their regular routine, under stress or have experienced a lack of sleep, which is not uncommon for new parents,” the council noted, adding that during the current COVID-19 pandemic, more vehicles have been sitting idle.
The safety group recommended a series of simple steps for parents and caregivers to help prevent tragedy:
- Keep car doors locked so children cannot gain access;
- Teach children that cars are not play spaces;
- Create a new habit: always check the backseat before leaving the vehicle;
- Place something important, like a purse, briefcase or cell phone in the backseat; this can force drivers “to look before they lock”; and
- Never leave a child in a vehicle when running errands, even briefly, as there is no safe amount of time. (Rolling down a window does little to keep a vehicle cool, and heatstroke deaths have occurred even when vehicles were parked in shaded areas.)
Helping save lives is something everyone can do, the safety group said. For example, bystanders are encouraged to call 911 immediately if they see a child alone in a vehicle, and employers can learn how to mitigate risk among their employees, which is important, as about 25% of these deaths occur in workplace parking lots while the parent or caregiver is at work.
The council, along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other safety groups will host a heatstroke roundtable July 1 beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET.