Putting an End to Kids in Hot Car Deaths

Education – along with technology – can help save dozens of lives each year 

- This post was co-written by Amy Artuso is senior program manager for occupant protection at the National Safety Council and Joseph Colella is director of Child Passenger Safety for the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association.

The unthinkable happened to Reginald McKinnon in March 2010.

He was supposed to drop off his young daughter Payton Lyn at childcare after a doctor’s appointment, but that never happened.

Instead, Reginald drove to work just a block away from the childcare center and forgot that his daughter was in the back seat of his vehicle. Tragically, Payton Lyn – left unattended in a car seat – wound up dying of heatstroke, otherwise known as hyperthermia.

Hers is one of more than 764 hyperthermia deaths related to vehicles that have occurred since 1998, with at least 21 deaths having occurred so far this year. All such deaths are preventable, and with increased education efforts – in addition to advancements in technology – the National Safety Council and Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association share a goal that no more children die after being left in hot vehicles. 

First, the facts.

In June, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a safety warning to remind everyone about the dangers of leaving an unattended child in a vehicle.

Despite such warnings, parents and caregivers have left young ones in vehicles under a variety of circumstances.

Approximately 54 percent of the vehicle-related hyperthermia deaths that have occurred since 1998 happened when a parent or caregiver inadvertently forgot – or unknowingly left – a child in a vehicle. In most cases, these tragedies occurred when normal parent routines were changed.
27 percent happened when children gained access to – or were playing in – a car without supervision.
18 percent happened when a child was intentionally or knowingly left in a vehicle, and it’s important to mention that knowingly leaving a child in a vehicle does not automatically mean ill intent. Many parents or caregivers leave children alone in a vehicle when they intend to do something quickly, such as picking up a gallon of milk at the store.
1 percent of these child deaths have been attributed to unknown circumstances.

This is where education comes into play.

Adults should never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, not even for a minute, as a car, truck or SUV can heat up very quickly. Also, they should always look before they lock a vehicle to make sure a child does not remain in the back seat. In addition, caregivers should consider placing something they'll need – such as their cell phone, handbag, employee ID or brief case – in the back seat so they have to open the back door to retrieve that item. They should also teach children that vehicles are not play areas. More tips and details can be found at www.kidsandcars.org/how-kids-get-hurt/heat-stroke.

Advancements in technology can help curb this issue as well.  While the National Safety Council and JPMA do not endorse specific products, multiple items are available to help remind adults that a child might need to be removed from a vehicle’s back seat.

For example, in several 2017 GM vehicles, if a rear door is opened and closed within 10 minutes before the vehicle is started – or is opened and closed while the vehicle is running – five chimes will sound and a message will display on the instrument panel when the vehicle shuts off to remind the driver to check the rear seat.

Another example includes some Evenflo car seats with SensorSafe technology that generate a series of tones activated through a “smart” chest clip, which is part of the car seat, and wireless receiver connected to the vehicle that reminds the driver that a child is in the rear seat when the vehicle is turned off.

Meanwhile, the CYBEX Sirona M with SensorSafe 2.0 monitors the well-being of a seated child through a smart chest clip that is synced with both an installed vehicle receiver and the caregiver's smartphone.

And Baby Trend is launching an app that is linked with the brand’s newest infant car seat, the Secure Snap Fit 35. The related app uses harness clip sensor technology to detect a child in a seat, ensure its harness is properly tightened and aid against unintentionally leaving the child in a hot vehicle or unattended. The app includes the car seat’s GPS location so family members or emergency personnel can respond, as well as instant access to full car seat instructions.

These, and other related innovations, will be expanded to more vehicle and car seat models from a variety of manufacturers. Of course, with any new technology, it is important to follow all manufacturer instructions and understand how the technology works. These advancements are just one layer of protection that should complement continued education and awareness about the dangers of hyperthermia and leaving children unattended in vehicles.

Protecting children is crucial, and we can all play a part. Get educated about how you can prevent children from dying in hot cars, and – where appropriate – consider technology that can supplement your efforts.

In the words of Reginald McKinnon, who is now an advocate working to prevent hot car deaths: “One more tragic death is one too many.”

We couldn’t agree more.