The death of an infant left in a hot car in North Charleston April 3 was a grim warning to harried parents about the kind of tragedies that can flow from simple forgetfulness. The death was only the second of its kind in the nation this year but, sadly, it won’t be the last.
Last year, 49 children died needlessly after being left in hot cars. And in some cases where parents or caregivers are found negligent, the grief is compounded by a criminal prosecution. A Phoenix man was recently sentenced to three years in prison on charges of negligent homicide and child abuse in the death of his toddler son, because he had been drinking when he left the 2-year-old boy in a car.
Though temperatures were relatively mild in North Charleston that sunny Tuesday — the high was 85 degrees — the car turned into an unsurvivable oven. The child’s father told police he simply forgot to drop the baby off at a day care center on his way to work. When he realized his mistake, it was too late.
Temperatures in enclosed cars can rise by more than a degree per minute. Over an hour, the temperature inside a car can spike by 43 degrees, according to a San Francisco State University study. That means that if the outside temperature was 80 degrees, the inside temperature could climb to a blistering 123 degrees over an hour.
Human beings are extremely sensitive to temperature, especially children. A child’s body temperature rises three to five times faster than that of an adult’s, according to Amber Andreasen, director of the national nonprofit Kids and Cars.
Unfortunately, the North Charleston case is all too typical. Parents simply forget the child is in the car.
“Fifty-four percent are unknowingly left in the vehicle,” Ms. Andreasen told Post and Courier reporter Gregory Yee. “These are otherwise loving parents. Numbers have been consistent since the late '90s or early 2000s. This problem is not going away.”
She urged parents of young children to always check the back seat when leaving the car and to keep unoccupied cars locked so children can’t get inside. Making a habit of putting a personal item that is normally carried in the back, like a purse, cellphone or briefcase, can be a useful reminder.
“The worst thing that any parent can do is think this can’t happen to them,” Ms. Andreasen said.
A few automakers, including GMC, offer a “rear seat reminder” designed to alert drivers to check the back seat before leaving the vehicle anytime a rear door has been opened. Kids and Cars also is trying to get legislation passed that would require all U.S. automakers to install similar technology.
Until then, vigilance is the only option. Make sure no child is left behind.