Heat waves are scorching the country this summer, and as the temperature escalates so does the risk of children passing away from heat exposure in locked cars.
An astonishingly high number of children have passed away from stroke deaths after being accidentally left in a hot car. Though a crop of new gadgets has popped up on the market to help prevent parents from unintentionally leaving a child behind in a hot car, a new report has found these new warning devices aren’t at all effective.
A report conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) found the majority of consumer products marketed to parents as a warning tool are extremely limited in their effectiveness. The report cited the new consumer products’ “inconsistencies in arming sensitivity” and “susceptibility of the systems to misuse” – meaning that a spilled bottle of juice, a cell phone signal or squirmy toddler can easily disrupt the motion sensors designed to identify children left behind in cars.
“While many of these products are well intended, we cannot recommend parents and caregivers rely on technology to prevent these events from occurring,” said NHTSA Administrator David L. Strickland in a statement.
According to statistics published by the NHTSA, heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for kids under the age of 14. Approximately 33 children died of heatstroke – medically referred to as “hyperthermia” – in 2011. Since 1998, nearly 540 children have lost their lives to vehicular heatstroke – an average of 38 children per year.
The majority of cases where children have died after being left in a hot, parked car are accidental, says Mark Robert Zonfrillo, a pediatric emergency physician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Dr. Zonfrillo explains that temperatures inside a car can quickly escalate to deadly levels and children’s bodies are unable to sustain the heat.
“Most of these tragic cases occur when there’s a break in established parenting routines,” says Dr. Zonfrillo. “The fact that it’s unintentional makes these situations absolutely heartbreaking— but completely preventable.”
Dr. Zonfrillo recommends parents get into the habit of double checking the back seat before hopping out of the car. He adds that some caregivers may find it helpful to place a small stuffed animal within view of as a reminder that a child is in their car seat. Because about 30 percent of deaths occur when children are trapped in an unattended vehicle during play, Dr. Zonfrillo also recommends that parents lock cars when they are not in use.
The NHTSA report follows a national campaign urging parents to ask, “Where’s baby? Look before you lock.” For practical tips on keeping kids safe from heatstroke, click here.