AAA: hot car deaths a tragic reminder to look before you lock

DAYTON — So far this year 34 children in the United States have died of a heatstroke after they were left in hot vehicles. To stop the deadly scourge of vehicular hyperthermia among the most vulnerable passengers, Ohio congressman Tim Ryan (D-13) along with Reps. Peter King (R-2nd NY) and Jan Schakowsky (D-9th IL) introduced a new bill, the HOT CARS Act of 2017, which would require the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue a final rule requiring cars to be equipped with a system to alert the driver if a passenger remains in the backseat when a car is turned off.

The recent tragic death of a 15-month-old child in Ohio as a result of being left in a hot car underscores the severity of issue. Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash-related fatalities for children 14 and younger, with an average of 37 fatalities per year since 1998. Additionally, within the past two decades, 734 children across the country have died as a result of a vehicular stroke with 19 of those in Ohio.

A similar bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate on July 31, National Heatstroke Prevention Day this year, also calling for a technological solution to curb hot car child deaths.

While AAA monitors the progress of both proposals, we encourage strong public education campaigns to increase awareness about the dangers of leaving children, adults with disabilities or pets unattended.

Hot car deaths change the lives of parents, families and communities forever. The use of new technology to alert parents and caregivers to a child in the car as they exit could help make all the difference and prevent these tragedies.

About 55 percent of child hot car deaths in vehicles were caused by adults unknowingly leaving children in the car. Such a momentary lapse can cause a senseless tragedy that unfolds in a matter of minutes.

“Common factors like a change in routine, lack of sleep, or even simple distractions can all have an effect on even the most responsible parents,” said Dr. David Diamond, professor and neuroscience expert at the University of South Florida in a release announcing the newly proposed legislation. “From a brain science perspective, parents can, through no fault of their own, lose awareness of the presence of a child in the car. That is why it is imperative that there be a system to provide an alert to remind parents of the presence of a child in the back seat. This is a modern phenomenon which requires a modern solution.”

Children are more vulnerable to heatstroke than adults. A child’s body can overheat up to five times faster than adults, reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). And only takes 10 minutes for a car’s temperature to rise over 20 degrees even if it isn’t an unseasonably warm day. However, a heatstroke can also happen on cloudy days and in outside temperatures below 70 degrees. A child dies when his/her body temperature reaches 107 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Children that have died from vehicular heatstroke in the United States (1998-October 2016) have ranged in age from 5 days to 14 years,” explains “More than half of the deaths are children under 2 years of age.”

AAA Urges Motorists To ACT:

A—Avoid heatstroke by never leaving a child in the car alone, not even for a minute.

C—Create reminders by putting something in the backseat you need when exiting the car – for example, a cell phone, purse, wallet, briefcase or shoes. Never leave car keys or car remote where children can get to them.

T—Take action and immediately call 9-1-1- if you notice a child unattended in a car. If the child is not responsive or is in distress, immediately call 911, get the child out of the car, and spray the child with cool water (not in an ice bath).

While federal legislation is under consideration to prevent hot car deaths, state lawmakers in Ohio have already taken action to protect good Samaritans who save children locked in a car. In 2016, Governor John Kasich signed Senate Bill 215 into law allowing a person to break into a hot car to save a minor or pet. The law allows immunity from civil liability for any damage resulting from the forcible entry of a vehicle to save a minor or pet as long as the person takes the follow steps:

Determines the vehicle is locked or there is otherwise no reasonable method for the minor or the animal to exit the vehicle

Believes forcible entry is necessary because the minor or pet is in imminent danger or death.

Makes an effort to contact law enforcement, the fire department or a 9-1-1 operator prior to forcibly entering the vehicle. If contact is not possible before forcibly entering the vehicle, contacts law enforcement or an emergency responder as soon as possible after forcibly entering the vehicle.

Places a notice on the vehicle’s windshield with the person’s contact information, the reason the entry was made, the location of the minor or the animal, and the fact that the authorities have been notified.

Remains with the minor or the animal in a safe location until law enforcement or emergency responders arrive.

Uses no more force to enter the vehicle and remove the minor or the animal than is necessary under the circumstances.

“If you see a child alone in a car, don’t worry about getting involved in someone else’s business—protecting children is everyone’s business,” advises the National Highway Transportation Safety (NHTSA) Administration. “Besides, ‘Good Samaritan’ laws offer legal protection for those who offer assistance in an emergency.”

By Cindy Antrican

AAA Public Affairs