Firm News & Events arrow Hot Car Deaths: Tools to Preventing a Tragedy

Paul M. D'Amore
Paul M. D'Amore

Founding Member, Trial Lawyer

Hot Car Deaths: Tools to Preventing a Tragedy

More than 900 children have died in the United States from vehicular heatstroke, approximately nine every day. In 2018, our country saw the highest number of hot car deaths in the past two decades, with a total of 52 lives lost. According to KidsandCars.org, Americans have already seen 26 hot car deaths this year, and five of them occurred in just the last week. 

On Friday, July 26, the father of twin 1-year-olds forgot to drop his children off at daycare before working an eight-hour shift in New York City. The girls were found dead in the vehicle at the end of his shift with body temperatures exceeding 108 degrees.

The following Monday on July 29, a two-year-old in Florida was found unresponsive in a hot daycare van. The boy had been forgotten in the van that morning and was not found again until the afternoon.

Another two hot car deaths were recently reported both occurring on August 1st. A two-year-old girl from Kentucky was found in a hot car at their home after her parents reported her missing. And a nine-month-old girl from Texas died of heatstroke after being left in her father’s car at a car wash. 

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (N.H.T.S.A.) found that more than half of all hot car deaths occur when parents forget their children are still in the car. These preventable fatalities are the worst during the summer months when temperatures inside of a car on an 80-degree day can soar past 100-degrees in only 10 minutes. 

Officials nationwide are urging parents to set reminders to remove their children from the car before they walk away; Maryland parents should not take these warnings lightly. These heartbreaking accidents can happen to anyone when the conditions are right. Thankfully, new tools surface every day aimed to decrease the number of hot car deaths in the future. 

Tools To Prevent Hot Car Deaths

There is a range of high and low tech gadgets parents can use to help prevent their children from becoming victims of vehicular heatstroke. The most popular tools available are rear-safety systems, car seat alarms, and reminder apps, all which come with their own benefits to parents who need additional support. 

Rear Seat Safety Systems

There are two types of rear-seat safety systems: motion detection and door monitoring. 

Motion detection systems, such as Hyundai’s Rear Occupant Alert System, use an ultrasonic sensor to detect movement in the backseat after the car is parked and shut off. If a motion is detected, the system sounds several alarms, flashing lights, and smartphone notifications to alert a driver that a passenger is still in the second or third row.

Door monitoring systems, such as GM’s Rear Seat Reminder, rely on tracking the motion of opening and closing the rear doors. If the system detects that a door has been opened within 10 minutes of the car starting, the system will sound five audible chimes the next time the vehicle is turned off to remind a driver to look back for a passenger. 

The five hot car deaths that occurred last week sparked a legislative movement to require more automobile companies to install rear-seat safety systems. Several companies are jumping on-board to standardize these safety systems in all newly manufactured vehicles, including Hyundai who plans to standardize their advanced Rear Occupant Alert by 2022. 

Car Seat Alarms

Parents looking for more affordable reminders that can easily be moved from vehicle to vehicle may opt for a portable car seat alarm. These devices work by either clipping on the harness of a car seat or slipping under the padding. By connecting via Bluetooth to smartphones, key fobs, and door hubs, these devices will sound multiple alerts to remind parents that a child is still detected in a car seat. 

For parents looking for more information on car seat alarms Fatherly highlights some of the best products currently on the market. 

Reminder Apps

Some parents who rely heavily on their phone may find these smartphone apps more beneficial- and it helps that they’re free! 

Waze users already have access to a built-in feature that parents can use to set reminders for when they arrive at their destination. By turning on the “Child Reminder” in the settings, parents can receive notifications before they get out of the car to remember their child before they exit the vehicle. 

The BackSeat App is another great tool parents can use without being connected to Bluetooth. This app reminds you to check the backseat as soon as the car is parked. And if the driver does not respond to the alerts, the app will send a message to three-emergency contacts that a child could still be in the back seat. 

Why Are Parents Forgetting

For some people, it’s unfathomable to think that someone could forget their child in a car. But if you are a busy parent who has made this mistake before, you know the threat is real. 

‘Forgotten Baby Syndrome’ is a medical term scientists use to explain how a parent can leave their child in a car unintentionally. According to an article published by Bundoo, researchers explain that people who follow a schedule, such as dropping a child at daycare before work, perform the same tasks every day. These tasks form a routine that is engrained into the brain as motor memories that are hard to alter the longer you someone follows the same steps. 

The problem parents are experiencing is when there is a variation in their routine. For instance, if a parent who does not normally drop a child off at daycare is filling in, they may revert to their normal daily routine and forget the child is in the backseat. Another example may be a parent who is used to chatting to a talkative toddler on the way to daycare. If the child falls asleep one morning after having a rough night, the child will not provide the audio cue a parent is used to as a reminder to drop them off. 

The fact of the matter is that most parents who have lost their children due to hot car deaths are not negligent or cruel. Modern-day parents are under a massive amount of pressure and stress. And without supportive reminders, these horrible incidents will continue to occur. 

Other Causes for Hot Car Deaths

There are to two other dangers putting children at risk for hot car deaths other than parents who forget they are there: 

Parents Leaving Kids In Cars Intentionally

The N.H.T.S.A. reports at least 26% of hot car deaths occur when parents know their child is in the car; this isn’t to say parents are trying to harm their children. Parents who leave their children in the car while running errands or loading up their vehicle for a trip may not realize how quickly fatal heatstroke can set in or are gone longer than they expected to be.

To prevent these types of incidents, parents should never strap their child into their car seat unless they are ready to leave. Parents should also never leave their child alone in the car when running errands, even with the windows cracked, to protect their child’s overall safety. 

Children Who Sneak Into Cars

Children love to play in cars but do not understand the risk the heat can pose to their health. At least 18 percent of children who die in hot cars became trapped when parents were not looking. 

This past May, a four-year-old Maryland boy died from vehicular heatstroke after locking himself in the back of his family’s car in South Carolina. The devastated parents reported their son was watching television one minute, and was missing the next. Officials report the child must have climbed into the car and could not get out. 

Parents can most effectively prevent these types of hot car deaths by staying alert. Children can easily sneak into cars and become trapped by heavy doors, difficult handles, or child safety locks. Keep your car locked at all times, and the doors shut to prevent a child from entering. 

Don’t Take a Chance

If you see a child in a hot car, with no parent or guardian insight, don’t take a chance that their parent will be ‘right back’. The N.H.T.S.A. suggests calling 911 to report the incident if you cannot locate the parent immediately. Follow the instructions of the first responders if the child is in distress or unresponsive to remove them from the car immediately. 

It’s the responsibility of every Marylander to protect the children in our community. Do your part by setting reminders to keep your family safe and helping out parents around you who need some extra support.

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