A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Sizzling summer temperatures spur warnings of child entrapment in hot cars; tips to help avoid tragedy

It’s been a sizzling summer in Central Kentucky and scorching temperatures are expected through much of the rest of July. The relentless heat is prompting AAA Blue Grass to again remind drivers to take all precautions so a child is never left in a vehicle―even for a few minutes. But AAA has an additional warning for parents and caregivers: lock your vehicles when at home so a child doesn’t enter a vehicle and become trapped because they cannot exit again.

Stanford University researchers found that with an outside ambient air temperature of 72 degrees F, the internal vehicle temperature can reach 117 degrees F within 60 minutes, with 80% of the temperature increase occurring in the first half hour. In general, a vehicle’s internal temperature can increase by 40 degrees when ambient temperatures range between 72 and 96 degrees F. That means when temperatures soar to the mid-90s, as expected for the weekend, interior vehicle temperatures can reach as much as 136 degrees F.

“The temperature inside a car can spike to life-threatening levels within minutes in this heat,” says Lori Weaver Hawkins, public affairs manager, AAA Blue Grass. “A child’s body temperature escalates much quicker than an adult’s. The danger in this intense heat cannot be underestimated. Not only are we concerned that children can be left behind in a vehicle due to a distracted parent or caregiver, but children are also dying of heatstroke because they have gotten out of the home and crawled into a vehicle, only to be trapped inside.”

(NKyTribune file photo from St. Elizabeth Healthcare)

She adds that children are also dying from heatstroke because a parent or caregiver intentionally leaves a child alone in a vehicle because they expect to be gone only for a short time. Often the adult underestimates the length they will be away or somehow gets detained longer than expected. It takes only a few minutes for a vehicle’s internal temperature to reach dangerous levels.

Over 900 children across the nation have died of heatstroke since 1998 because they were left or became trapped in a hot car.

For the period from 1998 through 2021, Kentucky ranks ninth in the nation for pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths per capita, more than any surrounding state and more than warm-weather states like Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.1

Ten children have died nationwide already this year in the U.S. The most recent hot car death of a child in Kentucky occurred in 2020. According to reports, a three-year-old girl died after getting into a vehicle without the knowledge of a parent and was unable to get out.

In 2019, two children in Kentucky died due to being left in hot cars, both in August of that year. A 2-month-old boy was unintentionally left in a car for several hours on a day when temperatures reached 84 degrees. A 2-year-old girl died after leaving the home and getting trapped in a hot car while a parent was napping after having put the toddler down for a nap.

“Tragedies like these bring unnecessary heartache to families and communities,” said Lori Weaver Hawkins, public affairs manager, AAA Blue Grass. “Changes in routines often trigger situations that lead to heatstroke deaths. So, especially as temperatures surge, we remind parents and caregivers to take specific precautions to prevent child heatstroke in vehicles. Simple, but consistent, steps can prevent the unimaginable grief that comes with the loss of a child.”

Weaver Hawkins urges parents to remember the phrase, “Look before you lock,” as a conscious reminder each time they turn their cars off after driving. Intentionally going through the steps of looking in the backseat after parking and before locking the car can prevent deadly situations resulting from temporary mind lapses or even communication mix-ups regarding transporting a child.

However, parents and caregivers need to be mindful that nearly as many hot car deaths of children occur when an unattended child gets into an unlocked vehicle on their own and then cannot get out again.

These reminders for parents, caregivers and others can help avoid child entrapment in a hot car:

If your child is walking, you need to be locking. Keep your vehicles and your doors locked while at home. Two of the most recent hot car child deaths in Kentucky occurred because toddlers were able to leave the residence and enter a hot vehicle without their parents’ knowledge. Just as you teach your toddler about other dangers, teach them not to try to get into a vehicle alone.

Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even for a minute. While you may not want to wake a sleeping child or deal with the hassle of buckling and unbuckling them from a car seat just to do a quick errand, those few moments left in the car can spell tragedy for a child. Regardless of the temperatures, take your child out of the car with you or leave them home with a caregiver.

Create reminders that your child is onboard. Tragedies can occur when a parent or caregiver is distracted and inadvertently leaves an infant or child in a locked car. Get in the habit of leaving your phone, purse or wallet in the backseat to force yourself to go to the rear passenger area of the vehicle before locking.

Be a hot car hero. If you see a child alone in a car, call 9-11 and get the child out of the vehicle. Don’t think that someone will be right back. Don’t think you can’t do anything about it. You could save a life.

Entrapment in hot vehicles has led to 23 deaths of children in Kentucky in the past 23 years, according to the National Safety Council and the advocacy group NoHeatStroke.org.

“One hundred percent of these kinds of tragedies are preventable when parents and caregivers know what precautions to take and then act on them,” Weaver Hawkins said. “All Kentuckians who are caring for children must be hyper-vigilant, not only during this heat wave, but at all times.”

AAA Blue Grass

Related Posts

Leave a Comment