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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Stop An Unspeakable Tragedy: Children Die In Hot Cars

 

A toddler in east Dallas recently became the 21st child to die in
 a hot car this year in the U.S. (Statistics for late July, 2016) 
That figure is nearly twice as high as the number of children 
who died by this time last year.

Many tragedies such as natural disasters and mishaps are unavoidable events. Yet, other horrible calamities are frequently caused by people being inattentive or distracted. In those cases, needless deaths may have been avoided if someone had just been more aware. Due to neglect, children continue to die in overheated cars.

News reports of these incidents often suggest "bad" parents, caregivers or drivers are to blame. However, in most cases, a victim is well-loved. The death is a tragic ending to a forgetful episode that resulted in the loss of a child's life. "This can and does happen to the most loving, responsible and attentive parents,” said Jannette Fennell, the founder of Kids and Cars.

And, the sad truth is that any one of us could easily be unintentionally neglectful. To prevent tragedies, we must always be vigilant for the safety of children and any others unable to protect themselves.

"The biggest mistake people make is thinking that it can't happen to them," Fennell said. "Everyone should practice those safety measures and do whatever they have to do to remind themselves to check the backseat."

Usually, in such cases of neglect, charges are filed, with penalties resulting in convictions and jail time. These tragedies often tear families apart.

Several parenting-based organizations are dedicated to emphasizing the potential dangers of children and vehicles and promoting ways to keep kids safe in and around automobiles. Kids in Cars and Kids and Cars are non-profit organizations that track child deaths and accidents in and around vehicles. The sites also serve as advocates for highway and auto safety to create and enhance basic safety regulations designed to keep kids safe.

Important Findings

Allow me to present some astounding facts and figures about deaths in hot cars:

1. An average of 38 children have died in hot cars each year in the USA since 1998.

2. Since 1998, 619 children have died in vehicles from heat stroke in the USA. 

3. More than 70% of heat stroke deaths occur in children younger than age 2. 

4. More than half of heat stroke deaths occur because a caregiver forgot the child in the car. 54%, more than half of those who left children alone in vehicles, did so unknowingly. 

5. Roughly 32% of heat stroke deaths occur because the child got into the car on his or her own without a caregiver knowing and couldn't get out. 

6. Nearly 20% of deaths occur because a caregiver intentionally left the child in the car.
 
7. An online survey found fathers three times more likely to leave a child behind than mothers.


8. Cars heat up quickly. A vehicle can heat up 20 degrees in 10 minutes. 

9. Cracking the windows or not parking in direct sunlight does not make a car significantly cooler. Heat stroke deaths have occurred even when the vehicle was parked in shade. 

10. A car can reach 110 degrees when temperatures are only in the 60s. Heat stroke can take place when the outside temperature is as low as 57 degrees. One study, performed by the Louisiana Office of Public Health, found that the temperatures in a dark sedan as well as a light gray minivan parked on a hot, but partly cloudy day, exceeded 125oF within 20 minutes. 

11. The body temperatures of children can increase three to five times faster than adults. Heat stroke begins when the body passes 104 degrees. Reaching an internal temperature of 107 degrees can be deadly. 

(National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and San Francisco State Univerity's Department of Geosciences.) 

12. 68% of heatstroke deaths in cars occur between June and August, but deaths have been recorded for every month besides January over the past six years. On an 80-degree day, temperatures inside a vehicle can reach deadly peaks in 10 minutes. Even if it’s in the 60s outside, your car can still heat up to well above 110 degrees. 

(Natalie Daher and Polly DeFrank. “Death in Hot Cars: Facts, Figures and Prevention.” NBC News. July 12, 2014.)

Responsibility

Why doesn't the automobile industry do something about this?  
Auto safety groups have called for manufacturers to do more, but because of cost, technology problems, liability, and privacy issues, there is still no foolproof way of preventing overheating deaths or warning of the possibility before they happen.

In 2012 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a report, "Reducing the Potential for Heat Stroke to Children in Parked Motor Vehicles: Evaluation of Reminder Technology." It found reminder and detection devices to be unreliable and required too much effort from caregivers for them to operate.

Not everyone agrees that a foolproof means of prevention is impossible or that cost is a major factor. “Every heat-stroke death, every child's life lost in a hot car is a tragedy,” David Friedman, the acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told NBC News. It is also, he added, a “100 percent avoidable problem. I don’t think the cost is as much a problem as the possibility of errors.”

One industry expert believes it shouldn't cost more than a few dollars per vehicle, given the sophisticated computers already on board cars. “I don’t think the cost is as much a problem as the possibility of errors,” said Dave Cole, Chairman-Emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

And, some technology devices do exist now as aftermarket systems. Products range from inexpensive "child in car reminders" that are attached to a driver's key ring or a visor clip to NASA's sophisticated Child Presence Sensor.


According to a press release, the Child Presence Sensor is designed to hang on the driver's key ring when a child is placed in a car seat and sounds 10 warning beeps if the driver moves too far away from the vehicle. Further, if the driver doesn't return within a minute, the alarm will beep continuously. The sensor switch triggers when a child is placed in a car seat and deactivates when the child is removed.
(Paul A. Eisenstein. “Death in Hot Cars: Why Can't the Automakers Prevent the Danger?” NBC News. July 11, 2014.)


Estimated Vehicle Interior Air Temperature v. Elapsed Time

Elapsed time
Outside Air Temperature (F)
70
75
80
85
90
95
0 minutes
70
75
80
85
90
95
10 minutes
89
94
99
104
109
114
20 minutes
99
104
109
114
119
124
30 minutes
104
109
114
119
124
129
40 minutes
108
113
118
123
128
133
50 minutes
111
116
121
126
131
136
60 minutes
113
118
123
128
133
138
> 1 hour
115
120
125
130
135
140
Courtesy Jan Null, CCM; Department of Geosciences, San Francisco State University


A Simple Solution to Preventing Death in a Hot Car 
 
No doubt, many of these tragic incidents could have been prevented. One simple way to make that happen: leave something you need in the back seat. If you are driving a child, after you put them in a back seat — in a car seat, booster or buckled in with a seat belt — put your left shoe back there, too.

Think about it. Simply putting your shoe in the back seat is an almost foolproof reminder to a driver that an innocent, precious human being is on board – what a minor inconvenience worth instilling in everyone's conscience. A "missing sole" can be a lifesaver. 

Pets, Too

On a slightly less serious note, the American Veterinary Medical Foundation reported that every year, hundreds of pets die from heat exhaustion because they are left in parked vehicles. Excuses like "Oh, it will just be a few minutes while I go into the store," or "But I cracked the windows..." are not sufficient to save these pets. The AVMF says "love 'em and leave 'em" is a good thing. The foundations advises pet owners to leave their animals at home in a safe, cool environment and not risk heat stroke.

(“Pets In Vehicles.” American Veterinary Medical Foundation. 2016.)


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