Summer Danger: Two Texas Children Die in Separate Incidents After Being Left in Hot Cars
An expert gives advice on how to prevent pediatric heat stroke deaths
Within only three days of each other, two Texas children have died after being left in a hot car.
The first death occurred in Providence Village on Thursday, June 24, 2019. CBS11 reports the 4-year-old boy was found outside a home just before 5 p.m. when temperatures were in the mid-90s.
The second tragedy occurred on Sunday, June 23, when an 18-month-old was left inside a car for five hours outside of a restaurant in Galveston.
The deaths were the first two of the year in Texas and the thirteenth pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths nationwide.
The peaking 100 degree temperatures are dangerous, especially for children, whose body temperatures rise three to five times faster than adults. There have already been 11 pediatric hyperthermia (heat stroke) deaths this year in the United States from children being left alone in cars.
Although there have not yet been any recorded in Texas, this state typically leads in hot car related deaths. Since 2010 there have been 60 juvenile deaths in Texas from children being left alone in a hot car.
Most cases of child heat stroke deaths in cars are accidental. There was a change in mom or dad’s routine, and the child was unintentionally left in the back seat. Like drowning, it is quick and it can happen to anyone.
“We do get a very small amount of people who leave the child in the car intentionally, but the majority is when you just totally forget,” Cook Children’s Injury Prevention Coordinator Sharon Evans said. “There is no socio-economic, no educational or cultural factors. It can be anyone.”
Evans and her team have partnered with Safe Kids Worldwide to develop a Texas Hyperthermia Board to educate Texans about how and why this can be preventable. The task force has changed legislation in 2016 to require birthing hospitals to educate new parents about hyperthermia and car seat checks.
“The biggest problem with injury prevention is everyone thinks it won’t happen to them,” Evans said. “We hear lots of people saying, ‘Oh, that’s just a horrible parent. How could they forget?’ Today’s world is so technologically driven, and people give more time than ever to their cellphones. If you can forget your phone somewhere, you can forget your child in the backseat.”
Outdoor temperatures don’t have to be sweltering for heat stroke to occur. The first vehicle-related heat stroke death this year occurred in April with 79 degree weather. The temperature in a car can rise nearly 19 degrees in ten minutes. Heat stroke can occur when a body temperature rises above 104 degrees and body organs begin to shut down near 107 degrees.
There have been many instances where people walk through the grocery store parking lot, see a child alone in the car and do not act for fear of prosecution if they damage the car. Texas released Texas House Bill 478 (HB 478) in 2017 to protect Good Samaritans and potentially save children from heat stroke.
HB 478 allows citizens to rescue a vulnerable child under the age of seven if there is no reasonable method for the child to exit the vehicle without assistance and if the Good Samaritan has reasonable belief that entry into the car is necessary to avoid imminent harm to the child. HB 478 also requires law enforcement must be notified and the citizen must not use more force than necessary to enter the vehicle.
Child car-related heat strokes are preventable, but can happen to anyone. It’s important to take measures in educating adults and children about the dangers of a closed car door. The effects could ultimately last a lifetime.
“It doesn’t matter how good of a parent you are. It’s just a tragic accident,” Evans said. “Being vigilant could save a life.”
Lock your car when you aren’t in it- This can keep curious kids from climbing inside when you aren’t around.
Create reminders- Place your purse, phone or shoe in the backseat next to your child. It should be an item you will notice quickly if it is missing.
Create a new routine- Make "look before you leave" a daily practice whenever you get out of the car.
Teach your children- Ensure your children are educated about car safety and consistently remind them that cars are not a play area.
Waze- This GPS app has a built in reminder that will prompt the driver to check the backseat when the destination is reached.