NHTSA: 628 Children Have Died In Hot Cars Since 1998; Technology To Protect Kids "Isn't There Yet"

July 25, 2014

Senior officials from the Department of Transportation held a press conference yesterday in Washington, D.C., and the news they shared wasn't much comfort to parents and guardians of small children.

According to Detroit News, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and David Friedman, Acting Administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told the assembled crowd that since 1998, a total of 628 children have died after being left in hot cars -- an average of 38 deaths per year. Last year, 44 children died of heat stroke in automobiles, and 17 have been reported to date in 2014.

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Worse, as both Foxx and Friedman pointed out, each of those deaths was avoidable, and current headlines aside, the vast majority were accidental. Around 51 percent of those fatalities were caused by parents who accidentally left their children in the car. Another 30 percent occurred when children became trapped while playing in unattended vehicles. And 17 percent resulted when parents intentionally left their kids behind -- though one hopes that's because the parents needed to do some quick shopping, not because they'd been planning infanticide. 

The problem is, Foxx and Friedman say that many parents don't understand how quickly temperatures inside their cars can reach life-threatening levels. Children's body temperatures rise up to five times faster than adults', succumbing to heat stroke when their temperatures reach 107 degrees. 

During the summer months, when outside temperatures are often in the low 80s, car interior temps can soar to fatal heights within just ten minutes. Even with ambient temperatures as low as 57 degrees, heat stroke can occur. 

You might think that with all the wearable technology and hidden sensors embedded in our daily environments -- including our cars -- there ought to be a way for parents to monitors their kids' well-being and alert them if they accidentally leave a child in the car. Unfortunately, for all the gizmos around us, Friedman said that the tech just "isn't there yet" -- or at least it's not developed enough for parents to leave it in charge of their kids.

And so, the DOT is taking an old-school approach to solving the problem, talking up its "Where's Baby? Look Before You Lock" campaign. The initiative is designed to educate the public about the dangers of leaving children in hot cars. According to Friedman:

"Parents and caregivers are the first line of defense against these needless tragedies—but everyone in the community has a role to play. Prevention means never leaving children unattended in a vehicle and always checking the backseat before walking away. If a child is in distress in a hot car, bystanders should call 911 immediately."

The campaign's website offers some helpful tips for parents and others, including ways to remind yourself to check your car's backseat.

Parents: if you've developed your own strategies to ensure that you never accidentally leave your kids in the car, share your tips in the comments below. 


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