Summer Tragedy: Kids in hot parked cars

Summer is just beginning, but five toddlers have already died of heatstroke in hot parked vehicles in Idaho, Florida, Louisiana, and Arizona. The top ten states for these deaths are (in order): Texas, Florida, California, Arizona, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, and Oklahoma.  Each year, dozens of children die in this tragic way. Most often, they are forgotten in the backseat by a busy parent or caregiver. Some fatalities occur when a child gains access on his or her own to a car that was left unlocked. Others are left intentionally in the car while a caregiver chooses to go shopping or run an errand.

A car's interior can rise 43 degrees in an hour and easily top 123 degrees on only an 80-degree day, even with the windows "cracked" open. Within minutes, that sweltering environment can turn lethal for a child, whose body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult's.

The International Parking Institute, the largest association of parking professionals, offers these safety tips:

  • Never leave a child alone in parked car-never, not even for a minute. In many states, leaving a child in a car unattended is a criminal offense.
  • Call 911 if you see a child alone in a car. Every minute counts.
  • Never leave your car without checking the backseat. Put your wallet or phone in back as a reminder.
  • If your child is still in a car seat, put a stuffed toy on it when you take the child out. When the safety seat is occupied, keep the toy up front as a visual reminder.
  • Arrange for your childcare provider to call if your child doesn't arrive on time.
  • If your child is missing, check nearby pools first, then the car and trunk of the car immediately.
  • Always lock your car, even in the garage or driveway.
  • Teach your children that vehicles are never to be used as play areas.
  • Keep car keys and remote control devices where children can't get them.

"Losing a child this way is heartbreaking, and has happened to even the best of parents,"says Shawn Conrad, CAE, IPI's executive director. He encourages parents and caregivers to get in the habit of always opening the back door of your car whenever you park it and before you lock up.