Tragedy 8 Times Over: 8 Children Die in One Week in U.S. After Being Left in Hot Vehicles

In what might be one of the most senseless and tragic horrors to befall families, eight young children across the United States died in the first week of August when they became severely overheated after being left unattended in hot vehicles.

Eight children died. In one single seven-day span. In the U.S., one of the most powerful nations on the Earth, these children died because someone accidentally left them in a vehicle to bake to death.

It is beyond tragic.

The most recent death came on Aug. 7 in Tennessee, when a 38-year-old woman forgot to drop her five-month-old son off at daycare after she took her other child to school, according to a report from ABC

When the woman went back to the day care center that afternoon to pick up the baby, she was told that he was never dropped off, the report stated. “She ran to her minivan, found her 5-month-old child inside the van and she carried her child into the day care,” a police spokesman told ABC News. “It’s believed he died in the van from the heat.”

Police said that no charges have been filed.

A photo of an ambulance speeding to help a victim. Image credit: ©

The numbers of similar incidents are growing at an all-too-fast clip in this country.  So far, 23 children have died of hyperthermia in cars in 14 states in 2012, according to ABC News. That includes 7 other tragic cases which occurred in the first week of the month, in addition to the Tennessee incident.

Each year, an average of 38 children die this way each year, according to the national non-profit child safety organization, Kids and Cars. “Far too many children have been inadvertently forgotten in hot vehicles or have gotten into a vehicle on their own,” according to the group. “Vehicular heat stroke tragedies change the lives of parents, families, and communities forever.”

That might be the understatement of the decade.

In 2011, there were 33 child vehicular heat stroke deaths in the U.S., the group reported. That was down from 49 in 2010, and equal to 2009 when there were again 33 deaths. From 1998 to 2011, there were at least 519 such deaths, which is an average of 38 deaths per year – or one every 9 days.

Those numbers are terrifying.

The answer, of course, is to NEVER leave your child alone in a car, according to the child safety group, Safe Kids USA. The reason is that no matter how quickly you think you will be before you return to the vehicle, it just doesn’t take long for the temperature inside a closed vehicle to soar on a hot summer day, the group states.

“You might be surprised to hear that a child can die from heat stroke on a 72-degree day,” according to Safe Kids. “There’s a medical reason why this happens to children – their bodies aren’t the same as adults. A child’s body can heat up five times faster than an adult’s.”

And it happens quickly, because “even on a mild day, the temperature inside a car can rise 20 degrees in just 10 minutes,” the group says. “On an 80-degree day, the inside of a closed car can quickly reach 100 degrees in the time it takes to run into the store for an errand. Heat stroke happens when the body cannot cool itself fast enough and the core temperature rises to dangerous levels.”

And since children are smaller than adults, they are negatively affected by temperature spikes much more quickly than adults are impacted, bringing tragedy to fruition much faster.

To prevent such tragedies, Safe Kids recommends several simple safety tips:

  • Avoid heat stroke-related injury and death by:
    • Never leaving your child alone in the car, even for a minute.
    • Consistently locking unattended vehicle doors and trunks to prevent children from entering them and becoming trapped inside.
  • Create reminders and habits that give you and your child’s caregiver a safety net:
    • Establish a peace-of-mind plan. When you drop off your child, make a habit of calling or texting all other caregivers, so all of you know where your child is at all times.
    • Place a purse, briefcase, gym bag, cell phone or an item that is needed at your next stop in a back seat.
    • Set the alarm on your cell phone or computer calendar as a reminder to drop your child off at childcare.
  • Take action if you see an unattended child in a vehicle:
    • Dial 911 immediately and follow the instructions that emergency personnel provide – they are trained to determine if a child is in danger.

Over the last several years, more safety agencies, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), are conducting public awareness campaigns aimed at halting these tragic and preventable deaths. The NHTSA launched a nationwide campaign in June to remind parents and caregivers of the real-world and imminent dangers of leaving small children in hot vehicles even for a short time. The theme of the campaign is “Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock.”

Yet despite those efforts, the tragedies are still happening with frightening regularity.

The NHTSA reminds everyone to never, under any circumstances, leave a child unattended in a vehicle. Also don’t let children play in unattended vehicles due to the danger of accidental entrapment. Never, according to the agency, ever leave infants or children in a parked vehicle even if the windows are partially open.

Be sure to also “make a habit of looking in the vehicle – front and back – before locking the door and walking away,” the NHTSA suggests. “If you are dropping your child off at childcare, and normally it’s your spouse or partner who drops them off, have your spouse or partner call you to make sure the drop went according to plan.”

In addition, the agency suggests that people ask their childcare provider to call them if the child does not show up for childcare.

If you should witness a child locked inside a sweltering vehicle, call 911 and the police immediately, the NHTSA suggests. “If they are in distress due to heat, get them out as quickly as possible. Cool the child rapidly.”

Symptoms of heatstroke include red, hot, and moist or dry skin, no sweating, a strong rapid pulse or a slow weak pulse, a throbbing headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, being grouchy, or acting strangely, according to the agency.

We all need to be more aware of child heatstroke dangers in our communities so that we can remind our loved ones, friends, relatives, neighbors and even strangers of the risks involved in taking shortcuts that will change their lives forever if a tragedy happens.

The lives of our precious children are at stake and we need to be more conscious, careful and guarded in protecting them.

This has been a public service message from MyPhillyLawyer. When Winning Matters Most, call MyPhillyLawyer.