Earlier this week, I was incredibly saddened to read about a 3-year-old boy in Dallas who was accidentally left behind in a parked vehicle while the rest of his family attended church services. He became the 23rd child fatality due to hyperthermia, more commonly referred to as heatstroke, in the US in 2016. In comparison, 24 children were killed in all of 2015.¹
Along with many others in the child safety and traffic safety communities, I am concerned about this apparent uptick in child deaths due to heatstroke in 2016. With summer temperatures in full swing and a heatwave impacting about half of the country, the threat of heatstroke will unfortunately not be going away soon. So it is timely that this Sunday, July 31st marks National Heatstroke Prevention Day. Led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the day is intended to bring awareness and education to the public about understanding and preventing pediatric heatstroke.
Within the past decade, efforts have been made to develop after-market products designed to address pediatric heatstroke. In 2012, CIRP@CHOP released a research study, funded by NHTSA, which evaluated commercially available products (as of 2011) designed to prevent children ages 0 to 24 months from being left behind in closed, parked vehicles, potentially leading to heatstroke. We found a series of limitations with the devices tested which were designed to detect the presence of a child in a child restraint. Click here to read more about the study and download the full report.
With an average of 37 US children dying in hot cars each year since 1998 ², additional awareness and mainstream media coverage has led to recent investments by both child restraint system manufacturers and vehicle manufacturers to develop integrated solutions to heatstroke prevention in their products. Because further research and testing will be needed, awareness of best practices for pediatric heatstroke prevention remains key for parents and caregivers. NHTSA provides these tips under its “Always Look Before You Lock” mantra:
- Always check the back seats of your vehicle before you lock it and walk away.
- Keep a stuffed animal or other memento in your child's car seat when it's empty, and move it to the front seat as a visual reminder when your child is in the back seat.
- If someone else is driving your child, or your daily routine has been altered, always check to make sure your child has arrived safely.
Additional information, resources, and tips to avoid pediatric heatstroke are available on NHTSA’s safercar.gov website: https://www.safercar.gov/staticfiles/safercar/heatstroke/downloads/subpdfs/Heatstroke_Safety_Tips.pdf
- & 2. “Heatstroke Deaths of Children in Vehicles.” Updated July 24, 2016. Retrieved from http://www.noheatstroke.org/.
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