Stories about: Heidi Almodovar

Leaving a child alone in a car can quickly turn deadly

In the past 15 years, more than 550 children across the United States have died from heatstroke after being left alone in a car. That’s an average of 37 lives—an entire classroom full of children—lost each year to a completely avoidable accident.

Most of the deaths occur when a parent simply forgets his or her child is in the back seat. It sounds hard to believe, but parenting is hard work, and sometimes when people get frazzled careless mistakes are made. Data show that heatstroke tragedies happen more often when there is an interruption to the parents’ daily routine.

For instance, imagine your alarm clock didn’t go off one morning and you’re running very late to work. Somewhere between merging in and out of traffic and checking your email on your phone, you completely forget to drop your child off at daycare. Already 10 minutes late for a meeting you jump out of the car and rush inside, too preoccupied to notice your child quietly sleeping in the backseat.

Considering vehicles heat up quickly—as much as 19 degrees in 10 minutes—a car can go from uncomfortable to dangerous in minutes, especially for young children whose body heat can spike up to five times faster than adults. Once their internal temperature hits 104 degrees, the major organs begin to shut down; when it reaches 107 degrees, the child could die.

And it doesn’t need to be the dog days of summer for this to occur. Even on a partially cloudy, 80-degree day, the inside of a closed car can quickly jump to 100 degrees.

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