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Number of Children Who Die in Hot Cars Spikes: But Why?

By By Annie U.
July 19, 2011, 6:53:22 AM EDT

Safe Kids USA shared a sad milestone the first week of June, as the number of children to die from heat stroke after being left alone in a car reached 500. In the United States, an average of 38 children die this way each year.

The Danger of Leaving Kids Alone in the Car

According to Safe Kids USA, “heat stroke (also known as hyperthermia) occurs when a body’s thermostat is overleaded with heat; children are at a great risk of this as their body heats up 3 to 5 times faster than adults.”


Are Rear-facing Seats To Blame?

Car safety experts know that it is safest for babies and small children to be in a rear-facing seat in the car. In the event of a crash, they are best protected that way. This past March, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated its car seat recommendations. The new policy recommends that children remain rear-facing until the age of 2, unless they reach the maximum height and weight of the car seat at an earlier age.

Dr. Dennis Durbin, the lead author on the AAP’s new policy statement, explains that: “A rear-facing child safety seat does a better job of supporting the head, neck and spine of infants and toddlers in a crash, because it distributes the force of the collision over the entire body.” The AAP says that deaths of children in motor vehicle crashes are decreasing, but are still the leading cause of death of children ages four and older.

While experts agree that a rear-facing seat is the best place for the child to be in the case of a collision, some experts are now questioning whether that puts them at a greater risk of being forgotten in a car. According to Parent Central, “the last time experts pushed a new campaign to put more children in rear-facing seats — in the 1990s, to cut the chances of being killed by air bags — the number of children who died in hot cars spiked.” They go on to explain that more children died from being forgotten in cars than from air bags.

It Won’t Happen to Me

Most parents believe this could never happen to them. In the Safe Kids press release, Reggie McKinnon, a father who left his 8 month old in the car when he went to work, was quoted as saying: “Before this accident, every time I would read of a child dying in a parked car of hyperthermia, I too would ask, 'how could they forget their child?' I would never do that. That only happens to people who are uneducated, drunk, drug-addicts, not me.”

Parent Central reports that it is often parents who are tired, distracted, stressed or who have made changes to their routine who end up forgetting a child in the car. It can be a costly mistake. These parents not only lose their baby, but they are also often perceived as monsters and sometimes even charged with manslaughter and child abuse.

Find out what parents can do to avoid making such a tragic mistake.

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