Children are still dying in hot cars.
Despite the efforts of child advocates and U.S. highway safety officials, Americans keep leaving young children in hot vehicles. In the first week of August, eight children across the U.S. died from heatstroke in hot vehicles — believed to be the most ever in a single week.
This year, 23 children have died of hyperthermia in cars in 13 states, the advocacy group Safe Kids Worldwide says. There were 33 such deaths in all of 2011 and 49 in 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports.
“Never leave your child alone unattended, not even for a minute,” says Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide, a network of organizations dedicated to protecting children from injuries.
The eight deaths from Aug. 1-7 are believed to be the highest one-week total ever, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland says.
Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash vehicle-related deaths for children under age 14, according to NHTSA. San Francisco State University researcher Jan Null found that from 1998 to Monday, 550 children died when left unattended in hot cars. Null says children have died in a wide range of outdoor temperatures — from a death in 2009 in El Cerrito, Calif., (67 degrees Fahrenheit, 19 C) to a death July 9 in Mesa, Ariz., (113 degrees Fahrenheit, 45 C).
The bodies of infants and children heat up three to five times faster than those of adults, says Leticia Ryan, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington.
NHTSA has made child heatstroke deaths a priority. Last month, the agency warned parents about the unreliability of electronic devices designed to alert parents of a child’s presence in a vehicle.
“Even one death is too many,” Strickland says.
Reggie McKinnon found that out two years ago. McKinnon, 40, a telecommunication supervisor in Cape Coral, Fla., left his 17-month-old daughter, Payton Lyn, in his SUV at work Mar. 8, 2010. He had taken her to a morning doctor’s appointment and forgot she was in the vehicle. He came outside around 3 p.m. that day.
“To my horror, when I went to put my laptop in the back seat of my SUV, I found Payton still in her rear-facing car seat,” he says.
Finding his daughter like that was the hardest thing he has ever endured, he says. The second-hardest was telling his wife, Julia, a third-grade teacher, what had happened.
Before his personal tragedy, McKinnon says, he would see stories about children dying in hot cars and think: “That only happens to people who are uneducated, drunk, drug addicts. Not me.”