AAA: Changes in routines due to restriction rollback and hot car dangers require renewed focus on children in rear seats

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 8:30 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WHSV) - As parents and caregivers return to their Pre-COVID-19 routines, AAA says it’s more important than ever to take steps to protect children as we head into summer. With the rising daytime temps of the summer comes the risk of children being left behind or getting stuck in a sweltering hot car.

AAA reports that nearly 1,000 children have died in hot cars in the past three decades. They say that’s an average of 39 young lives lost each year. Of the 25 children who died inside hot cars in the U.S. in 2020, two were in Virginia.

AAA Mid-Atlantic, Richmond Ambulance Authority, BabyIn BabyOut and Childcare Aware of Virginia are urging parents and others caring for children to check that back seat to make sure they’re not leaving a child behind in a car where they can become a victim of heatstroke or death. They add drivers should also be making sure cars parked at home are locked so children can’t get inside of them and become trapped in the heat.

“As outside temperatures rise, the risk of children dying from heatstroke after being left in a hot car increases,” said RAA CEO Chip Decker. “One child dies from heatstroke nearly every 10 days in the United States from being left in a car or crawling into an unlocked vehicle. In almost every case the deaths could have been prevented.”

Hot Car Dangers Facts (NHTSA):

  • A car can heat up by 20 degrees in as little as 10 minutes and become deadly.
  • A child’s body temperature can rise up to five times faster than an adult’s, and heatstroke can occur in outside temperatures as low as 57 degrees.
  • Even with windows cracked, the temperature inside a car can reach 125 degrees in minutes. A child can die when their body temperature reaches 107 degrees.
  • A child’s body overheats 3-5 times faster than an adult body.
  • 88% of children who have died in a hot car are three or younger.

AAA says 2018 and 2019 are the two worst years in history for child hot car deaths with 54 and 53 fatalities respectively. Five of those deaths were in Virginia. Fewer cars on the road and fewer miles driven by parents and caregivers last year meant a 53 percent drop (53 in 2019 compared to 25 last year) in hot car deaths involving children. But with cars sitting idle as many adults worked from home, the percentage of hot car deaths related to children gaining access on their own jumped from 13 percent in 2019 to 36 percent in 2020, according to reports that in over half of hot car deaths, the adult responsible for the child’s death unknowingly left them in the vehicle. Parents don’t intend to leave a child in a hot car, it often happens during changes in routine like AAA saw last year at the height of the pandemic and into this year as schedules begin to get back to normal.

“Stress, lack of sleep, fatigue and a change in daily routine can happen to the most well-meaning and responsible parents,” said Morgan Dean, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson. “Changes in routines often trigger situations that lead to heatstroke deaths. So, especially as temperatures rise, we urge parents to take specific precautions to prevent child heatstroke in vehicles. Simple, but consistent steps can prevent the unimaginable grief of the loss of a child.”

AAA recommends doing these three important things to help prevent a hot car tragedy:

  • NEVER leave a child in a vehicle unattended.
  • Make it a habit to look in the back seat EVERY time you exit the car.
  • ALWAYS lock the car and put the keys out of reach.

If you are a bystander and see a child in a hot vehicle, AAA says:

  • Make sure the child is okay and responsive. If not, call 911 immediately.
  • If the child appears to be okay, attempt to locate the parents or have the facility’s security or management page the car owner over the PA system.
  • If there is someone with you, one person should actively search for the parent while the other waits at the car.
  • If the child is not responsive or appears to be in distress, attempt to get into the car to assist the child—even if that means breaking a window—Virginia has a “Good Samaritan” law (§ 8.01-225) that protects people from lawsuits when getting involved to help a person in an emergency.

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