Be aware of heat-related dangers: One Virginia toddler has already died in a hot car this year

aaaTemperatures in the 90s, with feel-like temperatures approaching the triple digits, are predicted through the end of the week across Virginia, and if you think it’s hot outside, it’s even hotter in your car.

Every nine days, across the United States, a child dies while unattended in a hot car. It only takes a few minutes for a car to heat up and become deadly to a child or pet inside.

As summer temperatures rise, more kids are at risk – Nine children in the U.S. under the age of five have died in hot cars since the beginning of the year.  Tragically, one of those victims was here in Virginia. According to Fairfax County Police, the 11 month old girl was found unresponsive inside a hot car on June 26th after police say her father had strapped her in her seat and inadvertently left in a different vehicle to run errands.

Heat stroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle related deaths for children under the age of 14, with an average of 39 fatalities per year.  AAA has joined with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to remind parents and caregivers about the deadly consequences of leaving children in hot cars and to urge them to “look before you lock.” Heatstroke can cause death or permanent disability if emergency treatment is not provided.

“In the summer heat a vehicle’s interior can reach lethal temperatures very quickly, essentially creating an oven, causing a child’s internal organs to shut down if left unattended inside,” said Martha Meade, Public and Government Affairs Manager for AAA Mid-Atlantic.  “Young children or pets should never be left alone in a vehicle under any circumstances.”

In the past three decades(1990-2019), 949 children left in vehicles have died of heatstroke, hyperthermia, or other complications. Thirty-two of those deaths happened here in Virginia. Studies have shown about 56% of child hot car deaths in vehicles were caused by adults forgetting the children, and 26% of victims were playing in an unattended vehicle.

Some scary statistics:

  • Vehicle heatstroke claimed the lives of 53 children in 2019
  • To date,nine have died from vehicular heatstroke in 2020
  • A child’s body heats up three to five times faster than an adult’s body
  • A child can die of heat stroke on a 72-degree day
  • On a 95-degree day a car can heat up to over 180-degrees
  • The steering wheel can reach 159 degrees (temperature for cooking medium rare meat)
  • The seats can reach 162 degrees (temperature for cooking ground beef)
  • The dash can reach 181 degrees (temperature for cooking poultry)
  • At 104-degrees internal organs start to shut down

“Make it a routine to look twice and check the back seat for children before you leave and lock the car. If you have to put a reminder post-it note on your dashboard, an alarm on your phone or a stuffed animal in the front seat to remember to take a child out of the car, do it” added Meade.

AAA Mid-Atlantic Urges Motorists To ACT:

  • A—Avoid heatstroke by never leaving a child in the car alone, not even for a minute.
  • C—Create electronic reminders or put something in the backseat you need when exiting the car – for example, a cell phone, purse, wallet, briefcase or shoes.  Always lock your car and never leave car keys or car remote where children can get to them.
  • T—Take action and immediately call 9-1-1- if you notice a child unattended in a car.

When it comes to heatstroke, your animals are also at risk. Leaving them in a vehicle while you run into a store, take a break at a rest stop during a family road trip or for any other reason, can have deadly consequences. Make no mistake – just because your pet can’t tell you they are in distress, doesn’t mean they aren’t. Animals left in hot cars can face irreversible organ damage, heat stroke, brain damage and, in extreme cases, death.

Signs of heatstroke in dogs and cats can include:

  • Panting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Reddened gums and tongue
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Wobbly, uncoordinated movement

Animals are also at a more severe rate of risk when they have factors like age (very young, very old), obesity, poor heart/lung conditioning, are a short-nosed, flat-faced breed, or have a thick hair coat.

AAA Mid-Atlantic’s efforts to make all drivers aware of this issue includes a video showing just how hot the inside of a vehicle can become.


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