2-year-old death in hot car is nation’s 13th of 2022
Police are investigating the latest tragedy that occurred in northeastern Kansas, but reportedly said they don’t believe the child was left inside the car. The high there on Sunday soared to 92 F.
A 2-year-old child was pronounced dead in Scranton, Kansas, on Sunday after being found unresponsive inside a vehicle, a fatality that brings the number of hot car deaths in the United States this year to 13.
According to reporting from The Topeka Capital-Journal, law enforcement officers and emergency responders were called at about 3:40 p.m. to an undisclosed address in Scranton, which is just about 20 miles south of Topeka in the northeastern part of the state. The first responders then took the unresponsive child, whose identity hasn't yet been made public, to Topeka's Stormont Vail Health, where the 2-year-old was pronounced dead. KSNT, a local news station, reported that the sheriff's office has opened an investigation.
"What's important for people to understand is that literally, a car becomes an oven within minutes of it being closed, especially during the extreme temperatures that we are experiencing right now," Amber Rollins, director of Kids and Car Safety, a national nonprofit child safety organization, told AccuWeather. "And the other important thing for people to know is that it doesn't have to be a super hot day outside for a child to suffer heatstroke in a vehicle."
Car windows act almost like a greenhouse by trapping heat inside, even when the air is comparatively quite cool. However, it's been rather warm in Scranton of late. The high temperature in Scranton topped out at 92 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, which is about normal for this time of year, and July 25 was the only day in July on which the high temperature remained below 80 degrees.
Data from the nonprofit National Safety Council shows that since 1998, on average, 38 children under the age of 15 die each year from heatstroke after being left in a vehicle nationwide. The death in Scranton was 13th hot car fatality of 2022 in the U.S., more than half of the 23 deaths reported in 2021 and just over half of the 25 deaths in 2020. The highest number of juvenile hot car deaths reported in a year is 53, a grim mark that was reached in both 2018 and 2019.
The most recent hot car fatality prior to this instance occurred in Scotland County, North Carolina, on July 21, when a 2-year-old boy died in 91-degree outdoor heat, according to the National Safety Council. On July 11, a 3-year-old boy died in Miami Gardens, Florida, and on July 19, an 11-month-old boy died in Tallahassee, Florida.
Over 1,000 children have died in hot cars since 1990, and at least another 7,300 survived with varying degrees of injuries, according to data collected by Kids and Car Safety. Fifty-six percent of hot car fatalities involve children who were accidentally left in a vehicle by a parent or caregiver, while about 25 percent are children getting into the hot car on their own, as officials have said might be the case in Scranton.
"No one thinks a hot car tragedy can happen to them or their family, and that is why we need effective technology as standard equipment in all vehicles as quickly as possible," stated Janette Fennell, founder and president of Kids and Car Safety, in a press release. “Every day that we delay in advancing these cost-effective detection technologies means children are at risk of needlessly dying.”
Kids and Car Safety advocate for technology that can detect an unattended child as standard for all cars. In November 2021, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which includes a requirement for an audio and visual alert to check the back seat in new passenger vehicles. However, there is no requirement for the kind of detection technology that Kids and Car Safety describes. There are aftermarket devices that address this issue, and even Hyundai and Kia offer it as an option in some SUVs.
There are a number of different things that parents can do, Rollins said, but the first line of defense starts inside the home.
"You want to childproof your doors, make sure that children cannot sneak out even if they want to. There are things that we don't realize [children] can do. Opening the doors is one of those," Rollins said. "They make childproof doorknob covers for all different types of doors, you can also buy door alarms that you can stick onto your door frame that will provide some type of alert when a door is opened. It's another extra layer of protection there."
Even if you don't have kids, keeping cars locked at all times goes a long way to prevent a child who may live next door from getting stuck inside.
In addition to working at the federal level to prevent hot car deaths, Rollins lives in Kansas and has testified in the Kansas House and Senate Judiciary Committees to help pass legislation.
"We were able to pass a law in the state of Kansas that protects citizens from liability if they break into a car to rescue a child. And that is important because it encourages people to get involved. Then on top of that, it just allows us to make sure that nobody is not getting involved because of fear of liability," Rollins said. "That should never be a reason to not act, because literally minutes can be the difference between life and death or severe brain damage for a child alone in a car."
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