Why does this keep happening? Surely, people know by now how dangerous it is to leave a child in the car in the summer time! It is deadly dangerous yet it keeps happening year after year. It makes my heart hurt.
Consider this my annual reminder to never – ever – leave a child alone in an enclosed vehicle, no matter the time of year. Children are especially vulnerable to heat stroke. As their internal temperature rises their little hearts beat faster which, in turn, diverts blood from their lungs, brains and other internal organs. The result? A painful headache and excruciating spasms of arms and legs. It is a terrible death.
Experts say if its 93 degrees outside the interior of a car can quickly reach 147 degrees. Imagine trying to catch your breath in a small space that is that hot. Now imagine that there is no way to escape because someone you trusted either forgot you were there or deliberately left you there to, as one pot-smoking young mother of two put it, “to teach them a lesson.” Both her daughters died while she took a long nap inside.
Since 1990, more than 800 kids have died in hot cars. Some were the result of terrible accidents, others because of criminal neglect. Through the end of July NoHeatStroke.com reports, nationwide, at least 29 young souls have been lost in this torturous way.
- In sweltering Phoenix, Arizona two babies died in separate hot car instances in two days. A one year old perished in a vehicle outside a church, a 7 month old was found in a Northeast Phoenix neighborhood.
- In Portales, New Mexico a daycare worker left two toddlers, both about 2 years old, strapped into their car seats after having had lunch at a nearby park. About an hour and a half later she returned to the car and discovered one of the babies was dead. As I write this the other child remains in critical condition.
- In Caldwell, Idaho, a working mother left her 5-month-old girl with her boyfriend who then left the infant inside his car while he signed papers to buy a new vehicle. He says he lost track of time while the baby baked to death in the sun.
- In Kerrville, Texas, a teenage mother decided hanging out with a 16-year old male was more interesting than caring for her two daughters, ages 1 and 2. Police say she intentionally left them in the car for more than 15 hours. A grand jury will decide if Amanda Hawkins, 19, is charged with murder.
- In Chattanooga, Tennessee, a father left his three children in a blazingly hot car while he went to work. When he yelled for help with his 11-month-old daughter in the parking lot and a passerby responded he “tossed” the lifeless, naked baby to the Good Samaritan and sped away. Travis McCullough was arrested for criminal homicide and child neglect.
Texas holds the dubious distinction of being the leading state for hot car deaths of children. And earlier this month, outside Austin another dependent person, a 48-year-old developmentally disabled woman, went missing from her care facility and was found dead in a hot van outside. When or how she got there is unknown.
And let’s not forget our pets. The American Veterinarian Medical Association says hundreds of pets die from heat exhaustion every year. Three police K-9 dogs have died so far this year after their officer-handlers left them in their vehicles. It is faulty thinking to believe your pet will be okay if left in the car for “just a few minutes” or that “cracking the window” makes it okay.
The news will surely get worse because, traditionally, July, August and September are the deadliest months for hot car deaths of children. But they have happened in every single month of the year, including January. It doesn’t necessarily have to be hovering in the 90’s outside for it to be triple digits inside a car.
I’m sorry to say there’s not a lot that can be done about negligent or criminally inclined parents until something horrible happens. But there is something that can be done to help frazzled parents who simply – and honestly – forget their child is strapped into the back seat of their car. It’s called the Hot Cars Act of 2017 which would require all new cars to include an alarm alerting a departing driver if a passenger remains in the back seat.
“Our cars can already alert drivers when they leave their keys in the car, their lights on, or their trunk open,” Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) said.
“And cars are mandated to have seat belts, interior trunk-releases, and rear backup cameras,” he said. So why can’t this inexpensive technology also be included?
The answer is – it can be – and it is already available on a few new cars. Write your representatives in Washington and urge them to get behind this important legislation. Innocent lives depend on it.