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Heat Stroke Death a Risk to Children in Hot Cars

Consumer Reports logo Consumer Reports 2017-07-31

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With warm weather, sadly, come tragic cases of children being left in hot cars and dying from heat stroke. On average, 37 children in the U.S. die of heat stroke each year after being left in a hot car, according to KidsAndCars.org. While it may be hard to imagine, many deaths have occurred when overstressed parents forgot that their children were in the backseat.

These hot-car tragedies often occur when parents or caregivers are stressed, when there is a change in driver's routine, or when there is a sleeping baby in the back that a parent or caregiver forgets is in the car. Some knowingly leave their children "just for a minute" not realizing how quickly the temperature in a car can rise to dangerous levels. Even if it is only 70 degrees outside, a car can quickly heat to more than 120 degrees.

Jennifer Stockburger, director of operations at Consumer Reports' Auto Test Center, says that researchers are working on devices, including weight sensors and heartbeat monitors, to detect the presence of a child in the backseat, but nothing currently exists to warn the driver that a child has been left behind. Some child-seat manufacturers are also working to incorporate technologies into the child seat itself.

Tips to Prevent Hot-Car Tragedies

  • Simple rule: Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, not even for a minute. It's dangerous, and it is against the law in many states.
  • Set up cell-phone reminders for yourself to be sure you’ve gotten the children safely to their destination.
  • Check the car to make sure that all occupants leave the vehicle or are carried out when unloading. If you lock the door with your key, rather than with your remote, it would force that one last look in the car before leaving it.
  • Always lock your car and keep keys and remotes away from children.
  • To serve as a reminder, keep a stuffed animal on the front passenger seat when carrying a child in the backseat.
  • Place something in the backseat that you would need, such as your purse, briefcase or cell phone.
  • Have a plan that your childcare provider will call you if your child does not show up.
  • If you see a child alone in a car, especially if they seem hot, call 911 immediately to help get them out.

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