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How Do Hot Car Deaths Happen?

Children dying from vehicular heatstroke is one of the leading causes of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for those ages 14 and younger.

Heatstroke deaths have occurred even in vehicles parked in shaded areas and when the outside air temperature was less than 80 degrees.

Children's bodies heat up 3 to 5 times faster than adult bodies, and a high body temperature can cause permanent injury or even death.

Heatstroke begins when the core body temperature reaches approximately 104 degrees and the thermoregulatory system is overwhelmed. A core temperature of approximately 107 degrees is lethal.

Since 2018, there were 20 hot car deaths in our region.  During this period, Kansas and Oklahoma have each had 5 hot car deaths, followed by Missouri with 4, Iowa with 3, Arkansas with 2, and Nebraska with 1.  Prior to 2020, a reason for the child being in a vehicle alone was not listed, but of the 11 with a listed cause, 5 were children who got into a vehicle on their own and couldn’t get back out. 

Why Do Hot Cars Deaths Happen?

1. Children are forgotten in vehicles by parents or caregivers.

This is something that can happen to any parent or caregiver. When your routine changes, or you are stressed, rushing, or overwhelmed in your day, it's easy for you to forget a sleeping baby or quiet toddler in the back seat. If you're not usually the one to drop off your child at daycare or preschool, you may drive to work thinking of all you have to get done that day and the extra stop can slip your mind.

Prevent a tragedy by placing something you need for your day (phone, wallet, purse, etc.) in the back seat with your child. Another good practice is to have your daycare call you if your child doesn't arrive at their usual time.

2. Children get into unlocked vehicles and fall asleep or become trapped inside.

Young children who are able to stand and walk can climb into a vehicle. They may see it as playing or hiding, but if they enter a vehicle without the knowledge of an adult, they may be unable to get out, especially if child locks are activated.

Teach children that cars are not a place to play. Lock your vehicle and store keys and fobs out of the reach of children. Even if you do not have children, it's a good idea to lock your vehicle so children in your neighborhood can't get in. 

3. Children are knowingly left in vehicles by parents or caregivers.

Sometimes, children are left in vehicles by parents who do not understand the dangers of heatstroke. They may think that a quick run into the gas station or grocery store will only take a few minutes and that leaving the windows cracked will give anyone inside plenty of cool air. 

For their safety, take your children in with you when you run errands, use drive-thru services when they are available, and pay at the pump when you are getting gas.

What Should I Do If I See A Child Alone In A Vehicle?

See a child alone in a vehicle? Call 911! If someone is with you, one person should search for a parent while the other waits at the car. If the child is not responsive or seems to be in distress, try to get into the car to assist the child, even if it means breaking a window.

Kansas laws say that if someone enters a vehicle to rescue a person or pet, they are protected from liability for any damage caused to the vehicle if they meet ALL of these conditions:
1. They determine that the vehicle is locked or there is otherwise no reasonable method for the vulnerable person or domestic animal to exit the motor vehicle without assistance.
2. They believe that entry into the vehicle is necessary because the vulnerable person or domestic animal is in imminent danger of suffering harm.
3. They notify law enforcement or call 911 before entering the vehicle or immediately afterwards.
4. They use only the necessary force to enter the vehicle and remove the vulnerable person or domestic animal.
5. They remain with the vulnerable person or domestic animal in a safe location, close to the motor vehicle, until law enforcement or a first responder arrives.

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