Whether your children are laughing, screaming, or crying, it may feel impossible that you could ever forget them anywhere, especially in the car. Unfortunately, it happens more frequently than anyone would expect, and can result in serious injury or even death for a child. read on to learn more about auto child safety from an experienced car accident lawyer at Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney.
The National Safety Council, a group focused on eliminating preventable deaths, reported that in just one year, 53 children died in hot cars making it the deadliest year for this type of death in 20 years. The next year saw a similar number—52 children died in hot cars. More than 800 children died from pediatric vehicular heatstroke (PVH) between 1998 and 2018. When analyzed by state, Florida had the second-highest number of PVH deaths in the country. Florida recorded 93 deaths in this time period, second only to Texas.
While these deaths are tragic, they are also preventable. Read below to learn more about the circumstances that lead to children being left in cars, and technology options that can prevent these injuries and deaths in the future. If your loved one has already suffered from a hot car, speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer to discuss your legal options.
The Risks of Hot Vehicles
The statistics on PVH deaths make it clear that hot vehicles pose a risk to children. But how do kids get left in cars? And what makes it so dangerous?
How Kids Get Left Behind
Three main circumstances result in PVH:
- The child is forgotten in the vehicle by a caregiver;
- The child gained access to a vehicle without a caregiver’s knowledge; and
- The child was knowingly left in a vehicle
Over half of PVH deaths result from a child being forgotten in a vehicle. This might seem shocking given the amount of time and energy parents spend thinking about their children.
Several factors contribute to forgetting a child in a car:
- Children are staying in rear-facing car seats to much older ages, and rear-facing car seats look no different to a driver whether occupied or empty. The lack of a visual cue can cause a parent to forget the child is with them in the car, especially if the child has fallen asleep.
- The brain is hardwired around routine. If picking up or dropping off a child is not part of a daily routine, the brain will be less likely to remember this additional step.
- Work stress can cause brain fatigue, making the brain less likely to send the appropriate mental alerts. Given this, it’s not surprising that Thursdays and Fridays show the highest number of PVH deaths.
In addition to being left in a vehicle, children can also gain access to a car through play or exploration—and then find themselves unable to escape. It is important to always lock your car doors and trunk to ensure your child can’t gain access without your knowledge.
Dangers of a Hot Vehicle
Heatstroke is the illness or injury that occurs when the body can’t cool itself quickly enough. Heatstroke can result in dizziness, confusion, disorientation, seizures, loss of consciousness, and death. To understand the danger of vehicles, you must understand how quickly cars can reach dangerously high temperatures. In just ten minutes, you can expect the interior air temperature of a car to rise by 20 degrees.
The following examples illustrate how quickly a car can become deadly:
- If the outside air temperature is 70 degrees, the interior air temperature of a car can reach 104 degrees in 30 minutes and 108 degrees in 40 minutes;
- If the outside air temperature is 85 degrees, the interior air temperature of a car can reach 123 degrees in 40 minutes; and
- If the outside air temperature is 95 degrees, the interior air temperature can reach 114 degrees in just 10 minutes.
High temperatures certainly sound scary, but they are even more daunting when compared to the temperatures at which children can be injured or die. Children’s bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s. If left in a hot car, a child’s organs can begin to shut down at 104 degrees and can die when the temperature reaches 107 degrees.
There is little that can be done to lower the temperature once it is turned off. Cracking a window will have little to no effect, especially in a hot climate like Florida’s. Air conditioning is obviously useless if the car is turned off. This does not mean the car should be left on, as that presents other dangers to children, including carbon monoxide poisoning, unintended activation, or interference from an outside party trying to steal the car.
Understanding the Law
Florida statute underscores the risks of leaving children alone in a vehicle by prohibiting any child under the age of six from being left alone in a car for more than 15 minutes. Any violation of this statute is considered a misdemeanor of the second degree. If, however, the action results in significant bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement, it will be considered a felony of the third degree.
The law also allows police officers to act to rescue or remove a child alone in a car. A law enforcement officer who witnesses a child left unattended or unsupervised in a motor vehicle is authorized to use whatever means reasonably necessary to protect the child and remove them from the vehicle. The officer must place a notice on the vehicle if the child is removed from the immediate area, and the child will be put in the custody of the Department of Children and Families unless the officer can locate the parents, legal guardian, or other caregiver responsible for the child.
Prosecutors may decide to pursue neglect charges against the caregiver responsible for the child at the time they were left in the vehicle. A Florida woman left her boyfriend’s four-year-old son in a hot car that resulted in the child’s death. She pled guilty to child neglect. Similarly, a mother in Baker County was charged with neglect after her three-year-old son was saved from a locked car. While there is no state law detailing obligations for children over six, this does not mean that parents or caregivers would not be held responsible if harm occurred.
Striving for Safety
There are several things you can do to make sure your child never ends up trapped in a vehicle.
There are several steps you can take to ensure your children’s safety in and around vehicles. First, make sure to never leave your child unattended in a vehicle for any reason. Second, be sure to keep all vehicles locked and windows closed when the car is not in use so that children can’t gain access unattended. Also, make sure to keep your keys out of the reach of your children.
If you are worried you will forget your child in the car, you can help trigger your memory. When you put your child in the car, also place an item you will need, like a briefcase or your purse, next to your child (but out of reach for safety). This will ensure that you make a trip back to the child’s seat before leaving the vehicle. If you don’t have an item you are sure to need, consider placing an item of your child’s in the front seat with you, like a diaper bag or stuffed animal. This visual cue is more likely to trigger your memory that your child is in the car with you.
Make sure that you help other parents by saying something if you ever see a child alone in a car. Don’t hesitate to call 911. Your intervention could help save the child’s life.
Finally, make sure that you and any other caregivers are educated in the risks of hot vehicles. Require any caregivers who will be driving your child to watch this training course to increase their awareness of the importance of this issue.
While memory tricks can be helpful, technology has stepped up to help parents provide for the safety of their children while in the car.
If you don’t trust your memory alone, consider investing in one of the following:
- Car Seats with SensorSafe technology: Cybex offers several car seats with SensorSafe technology built into the chest clip of the car seat. The technology sends alerts to your phone if your child is in a car with unsafe temperature conditions. The clip monitors temperature conditions in the car and alerts you if the temperature becomes uncomfortably hot or cold. The clip can also notify you if the child unbuckles their chest clip. The popular brand evenflo also offers car seats that incorporate the SensorSafe technology.
- Elepho eClip: If you already have a car seat, consider investing in the Elepho eClip, which clips to a child’s car seat and monitors the vehicle’s temperature. It also automatically sends an alert if you leave the car without your baby.
- Waze: The popular GPS navigation app Waze has a setting that will remind the user that there is a child in the backseat. In the app, go to Settings and Reminders and select the Child Reminder function. The app will display a reminder not to forget the child in the car once you reach your destination.
- Kars4Kids: This safety app triggers an alarm when you and your phone leave the car, reminding you to take your child out of the car with you. It has an easy off feature for times your child is not traveling with you.
- The Backseat: This app takes into account that the driver may not be the only one who can help a child. It allows you to set an alert team who can also be notified if a child is left in a car, including the car’s location. This app also utilizes GPS and doesn’t rely on Bluetooth, making it the ideal choice for caretakers that don’t have Bluetooth technology in their vehicles.
- CarLock Tracker and Alert System: This device’s core functionality is as a device to stop car theft, but it can serve double duty by also alerting you if your child is in distress in a vehicle. The device senses unusual vibrations, including those of a crying, thrashing child. While this isn’t full proof, if your child is responding to being left in the car with distress, this device will send you an alert.
- Sensors installed in cars: While much of the available technology is app-based, there is the option to have sensors installed directly into your car’s backseat. Some car manufacturers make this technology available, such as Hyundai. If this technology is not available from the manufacturer, you can consider having one of the following systems installed:
- CAARESYS—The vehicle occupancy sensor counts the number of passengers and positioning as well as monitors vital signs. It can use audio/visual alerts such as flashing lights or a honking horn as well as smartphone push notifications to alert that a passenger is in danger.
- VAYYAR—This 3D imaging sensor technology includes Child Presence Detection even if the child is hidden under a blanket or in the vehicle and includes breathing monitoring.
- VitaSense—The radio-based technology senses occupants, including children left in vehicles, and provides the information to the vehicle’s warning systems.
- mmWave—This technology, produced by Texas Instruments, can sense very small movements, including breathing, that indicate a person is present, and can locate their position.
These technologies help keep child safety front of mind, but they aren’t foolproof. All caregivers need to be aware of the risks of leaving children in vehicles, and take all necessary steps to avoid making this deadly mistake—especially in Florida, where the climate can quickly heat up any car.
Michael T. Gibson, P.A., Auto Justice Attorney
2420 S. Lakemont Avenue
Orlando, FL 32814