Texas Leads Nation in Pediatric Hot Car Deaths. New Legislation Aimed at Prevention
A 3-year-old boy from Fort Worth died last summer after he climbed into a non-working vehicle. Police reported the boy was in the car for 45 minutes before he was found and temperatures had reached 100 degrees in Tarrant County.
It was a horrible reminder of the deadly consequences of what can happen when a child is left alone in a car.
Texas leads the nation in children dying from hypethermia after being left alone in an automobile with 55 deaths since 2010. Since 1998, 744 children have died nationally as a result of vehicular heatstroke.
For the Trauma department at Cook Children’s, statistics are much more than numbers. They represent very real, too often tragic consequences.
“Every time we hear of a child dying in a hot car, it’s heartbreaking for all of us,” said Sharon Evans, Trauma Injury Prevention coordinator at Cook Children’s. “It’s especially devastating because these deaths are preventable.”
Evans admits to frustration that these deaths continue to occur, but she’s encouraged by a law that could save children’s lives.
The "HOT CARS Act of 2017" would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to enforce that all new cars would be equipped with various alert systems to remind adults a child is in the back seat. The bill is currently attached to another that has passed the House and Senate committee. It’s awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.
Already this year, two children have died after being left alone in a car. A 1-year-old child died in Miami in February when the temperature was 81 degrees and a child died this month in North Charleston, S.C., when it was 84 degrees outside.
“We’ve seen children die in the winter months before,” Evans said. “There is never a safe time to leave your child in a car. We hope people will take extra precaution and know that there's never a safe way or time to leave a child in the car.”
Hyperthermia, also known as heatstroke, is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children. It occurs when the body isn’t able to cool itself quickly enough and the body temperature rises to dangerous levels.
Young children are particularly at risk as their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s. When a child’s internal temperature gets to 104 degrees, major organs begin to shut down. And when that child’s temperature reaches 107 degrees, the child can die.
Because of this, and because cars heat up so quickly – 19 degrees in 10 minutes – tragedies can happen faster than you think. Symptoms can quickly progress from flushed, dry skin and vomiting to seizures, organ failure and death.
“It truly doesn’t have to be a ‘hot’ day in Texas for a death to occur,” said Dana Walraven, Community Health Outreach manager at Cook Children's. “The temperature inside a vehicle can quickly climb over 20 degrees hotter than outdoor temperature. So even a cool day in Texas can become dangerous very quickly. Since children’s body heat rises three to five times faster than adults, it’s important to know that temperatures can become deadly any time of year.”
It’s hard to imagine someone forgetting a child is in the car, but people make these mistakes during their busy day-to-day lifestyle. Safe Kids recommend the “ACT” method to prevent tragedy to your child or to a child you see left in a car:
- A: Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving your child alone in a car, not even for a minute. And make sure to keep your car locked when you’re not in it so kids don’t get in on their own.
- C: Create reminders by putting something in the back of your car next to your child such as a briefcase, a purse or a cell phone that is needed at your final destination. This is especially important if you’re not following your normal routine.
- T: Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Emergency personnel want you to call. They are trained to respond to these situations. One call could save a life.