A family in New York City is in reeling in horror after their one-year-old twin son and daughter died in a car from heatstroke on July 26. Their father unintentionally left them in the vehicle, thinking he had dropped them off at daycare. The twins’ deaths brought the 2019 total of such losses in the US to 23. Each year nationally, an average of 39 small children die from heatstroke in hot vehicles. Others survive but suffer brain damage.
The distraught father in New York was charged with two counts each of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and endangering the welfare of a child.
2018 was the worst year on record; 52 children died last year after being left in hot cars. In August 2016, one-year-old twin girls died in a hot car in Carrolton, Ga., after their dad left them inside. AMR paramedics remind us: This horror can happen to anyone who takes care of infants and toddlers, so it’s critical to adopt habits for preventing these awful deaths.
Ryan Wilson, clinical services manager for American Medical Response in central Mississippi, said, “Small children fall victim to the heat faster than adults. That’s because children, relative to adults, have more body surface area, which means they absorb more heat and absorb it faster than grown-ups. In just minutes, a child’s body can reach temperatures that can cause heat stroke, which can lead to permanent brain damage or death.”
Wilson said, “Research has shown, even when outside temperatures are in the 70’s, vehicle interiors can quickly get hot enough to kill a child. The temperature inside a vehicle can climb 20 degrees in 10 minutes. The bottom line is: Never leave a child unattended in a car or truck, no matter what the outside temperature is.”
Wilson, a paramedic, advised:
- Leaving a window open or the air conditioner on does not protect children left inside a car. Take the child with you every time, no matter how soon you plan to return to the vehicle.
- Get in the habit of checking your vehicle’s interior, front and back, before walking away. Child passenger safety experts use the expression, “Look before you lock.”
- To avoid overlooking a smaller child restrained in a car safety seat, use these tips:
- Tie one of your child’s small toys or a pacifier to a string and hang it around your neck. When you leave the vehicle, even if you forget the toy is hanging from your neck, someone else is likely to mention it.
- Put in the back seat next to the child an item you have to take with you when you leave the vehicle, such as a cell phone, purse or briefcase. Put in the back seat next to the child an item you have to take with you when you leave the vehicle, such as a cell phone, purse or briefcase.
- Put in the back seat next to the child an item you have to take with you when you leave the vehicle, such as a cell phone, purse or briefcase.
- Place an unmistakable reminder of your child’s presence where you’ll be sure to see it before you leave the vehicle. For example, place a brightly-colored stuffed toy in plain sight on the passenger seat next to the driver. Clear off all other items on the seat so you are more likely to notice the reminder when you exit the vehicle.
- Keep a large Teddy bear in the child’s safety seat when the seat is empty and move the bear to the front seat next to the driver when the child is in the safety seat. Clean off the front passenger seat so the bear is the only object in it.
- Do not rely solely on electronic devices designed to alert you that you have a small child a safety seat in the back of your vehicle. Some years ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that such devices can malfunction due to a variety of causes. A couple of 2019 SUVs have a new form of alarm which uses ultrasound to detect movement in the second or third row of seats. If you use an electronic alert device, be sure to use additional methods to remind you of the child’s presence.
- In most households with children in daycare, the same parent takes the child to the daycare center almost every day. When the other parent takes the child to daycare, the parents should agree to call each other right after the time the child should have been left at daycare, to make sure the “drop” went as planned. Set reminders in both cell phones.
Wilson said car trunks are especially hazardous for children who can get out of booster seats or safety belts on their own. To prevent a child’s getting trapped in a scorching trunk, he advised:
- Keep the trunk of your car locked at all times, especially when the vehicle is parked in the driveway or near your home. Put the keys out of children’s reach.
- Some cars have fold-down rear seats that, when lowered, allow access to the trunk. Keep those seats closed to stop kids from accessing the trunk from the passenger area.
- Most vehicles have a safety latch inside the trunk. Teach older children where that latch is and how to use it.
- Teach children not to play in, on or around cars.
- Watch children closely around cars, particularly when loading or unloading items. They can slip into a vehicle unnoticed and get trapped inside.
- When children are old enough to get in and out of a vehicle on their own, make them exit the vehicle at each stop.
- Be wary of child-resistant locks. Teach older children how to unlock the door if they become trapped in a motor vehicle.