It’s every parent’s worst nightmare — inadvertently leaving an infant or toddler in a hot vehicle. Because there is so much going on in today’s world, especially in the midst of a pandemic, it can happen to anyone.
The latest Virginia fatality happened in late June when an 11-month-old Fairfax County girl died after her father had placed her in a rear-facing car seat in one vehicle, then left to run errands in another vehicle.
The National Safety Council estimates that an average of 39 children under the age of 15 die of heatstroke from being left in hot vehicles each year. The highest number of deaths have been in the previous two years. In 2018, there were 53 deaths nationwide, and just last year, the number was slightly lower at 52, according to the NSC.
The majority of these deaths, 54.2%, were children who had been forgotten by their caregivers while 25.2% of children gained access to vehicles on their own.
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Statistics had been trending downward because of the COVID-19 pandemic and more people staying home. Six children have died so far in 2020 nationwide from vehicular heatstroke. However, as businesses are reopening and more people are returning to work, it’s possible we’ll see an increase, especially given the additional stress the pandemic has caused, according to Amber Rollins of the nonprofit advocacy group KidsAndCars.org.
So how hot can it really get inside a vehicle? Experts have said that the interior temperature of a vehicle can reach up to 120 degrees on an 80-degree day within an hour’s time. If you’ve ever tried sitting in a parked car with the windows rolled up on a sunny summer day, you’re likely not able to tolerate it for too long.
Rollins’ group, KidsAndCars.org, had been advocating for the Hot Cars Act, which would require technology to be installed on all new cars that would detect if a child had been left inside a vehicle, but the proposed legislation has stalled.
Jan Null, who founded the website, NoHeatStroke.org, a website that tracks hot car deaths around the country, suggests that parents or guardians keep a stuffed toy, purse or briefcase in the front seat to help remind them to look in the backseat before getting out of the car. As an added safeguard, parents can also request that their child care provider contact them in the event their child does not show up for school or day care.
Similarly, hundreds of pets die each year when left in hot vehicles. Because, dogs are essentially wearing fur coats and don’t sweat, they are more susceptible to heat stroke than people.
Overweight and underweight dogs and those with heart conditions are more likely to have symptoms of heatstroke, according to The Zebra, an insurance search comparison website.
Heatstroke symptoms in pets can include excessive, rapid breathing or panting, bright pink gums, no energy and a rapid heartbeat, The Zebra reported.
While the weather is hot and humid, leave your pups at home if you can’t take them with you wherever you’re headed. And never leave a child in a vehicle unattended for any amount of time.