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Safety advocates concerned with how children are dying in hot cars this year

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Posted at 5:52 AM, Aug 25, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-25 08:07:55-04

PRAIRIE VILLAGE, Kan. — Fewer children have died in hot cars across the United States this year, but the circumstances under which children have died are raising concerns for safety advocates.

A higher percentage of children are dying in hot cars this year because they’re getting into parked cars on their own.

In the past, the safety group said only about a quarter of all child vehicular heatstroke cases were caused by children getting into a car themselves. So far this year, 42 percent of such deaths are a result of children finding their way into a car on their own.

Safety experts like Susie Girten, a nurse and child passenger safety technician at Saint Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, said the coronavirus has changed the routines of parents. They are running fewer errands, so there’s less of an opportunity to accidentally leave a child in the backseat of a car.

Instead, there are more cars parked at homes where children are spending more time. Children wander out of their homes and into a car. In most cases, before parents realize what happened, it’s too late.

Girten said this doesn’t just happen to neglectful parents.

“It happens to teachers and pediatricians, and it happens to social workers; it could happen to any of us,” she pointed out.

To prevent children from getting into parked cars, Girten suggested the following:

  • Lock the doors to your house so your kids cannot wander outside.
  • Lock the doors to your car so kids cannot get inside.
  • Ask your neighbors to keep their car doors locked.
  • If your child is missing, check the car first.

Advocates like Girten support the Moving Forward Act, which includes a provision requiring car manufacturers to include reminders and sensors in all new cars to alert drivers if someone is in the backseat.

The US House of Representatives passed the bill last month. Next, the Senate will review it.

Girten and other supporters said if a law like this saves one life, it’s worth it.

“We need the help,” Girten said. “A loss of one child is devastating. The loss of 50 or 60 children a year is beyond comprehension. if there is something we can do about it, we need to put all our fight behind it and demand that it happen.”

Children don’t die in cars only on hot days. The group has reported child vehicular heatstroke deaths in November. Experts said heatstroke can happen when it’s 60 degrees or warmer.

Girten said cracking the window on your car doors does not make a difference.

If someone sees a child in a car, Girten had the following advice:

  • First, call 911.
  • Don’t wait five minutes to see if a parent shows up, call right away.
  • Both Missouri and Kansas have Good Samaritan laws which mean if you break a window to rescue a child, you cannot be sued in most circumstances.

Here is the number of child vehicular heatstroke deaths by year according to

  • 2020: 19 (as of Aug. 24)
  • 2019: 53
  • 2018: 54 (highest number recorded)
  • 2017: 43