As Arkansas enters the hottest part of the summer, a reminder of the risks of extreme heat to children is in order, particularly the dangers of leaving children unattended in hot vehicles. Unfortunately, multiple child deaths from hot vehicles are reported every summer. One of the most recent tragedies was the death of a toddler in North Carolina, at least the ninth hot-car fatality in the U.S. so far this year.
Since 1998, there have been at least 916 child hot-car fatalities in the U.S. Arkansas has one of the highest per-capita rates of child vehicular heatstroke deaths in the nation: A ranking of all 50 states and the District Columbia, with No. 1 being the state with the lowest rate, places Arkansas at No. 46 with at least 18 deaths — or 31 deaths per 1 million children age 14 and under — recorded between 1998 and 2021.
According to pediatric vehicular heatstroke data collected by NoHeatStroke.org, most deaths happen because a child is forgotten in a vehicle by a caregiver (53%). In about 20% of instances, a child was knowingly left in a vehicle, often because a caregiver failed to realize how hot the interior would become with the engine shut off.
Vehicles can become extremely hot in a very short period. Dashboards, steering wheels, car seats, and other interior car components absorb the sun’s heat and transfer that heat to the adjacent air in the vehicle. On an 80-degree day, after only 10 minutes the interior of a car rises to 99 degrees. After an hour, the interior temperature can reach 123 degrees.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration asks parents and caregivers to remember to stay in the habit of checking for children in the back seat before exiting a vehicle and locking doors by remembering to “Park. Look. Lock.” It’s also important to remember to keep car doors locked when vehicles are not in use, as 26% of heat deaths happen when children enter unattended vehicles.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has also developed a list of safety reminders to help parents avoid hot car fatalities. A few of the recommendations include:
- Always check the back seat and make sure all children are out of the car before locking it and walking away.
- Put your cell phone, bag, or purse in the back seat, so you check the back seat when you arrive at your destination.
- If someone else is driving your child, always check to make sure he or she has arrived safely.
- Remind children that cars, especially car trunks, should not be used for games like hide-and-seek.