Death Toll Rises for Kids Left in Hot Cars

Already this year, seven American children have died after their distracted parents left them behind in vehicles where the temperature became sweltering.

According to the nonprofit advocacy group Kids and Cars, 42 children died last year from hyperthermia, or getting too hot, after parents left them strapped inside cars when the weather is hot. It was the highest number ever, the group says.

Jayne O'Donnell, a USA Today reporter who has covered the issue, said that today's busy parents may be more stressed and apt to leave children in the car as they are attending to cell phone calls or other distractions.

"Get in the habit of never, ever leaving a kid or a pet in a car for even a second," O'Donnell said.

Cars can heat up in a matter of minutes. A recent study found that in 10 minutes, the average temperature inside a car rises 19 degrees F, O'Donnell said. After 20 minutes, it goes up by 29 degrees. After 30 minutes, the thermometer jumps by 34 degrees, and after an hour, the temperature goes up by a whopping 43 degrees.

Heat stroke occurs when a body's temperature reaches 104 degrees F. A body temperature of 107 degrees F is lethal.

To help parents remember not to leave children in the car, experts recommend what is known as "the Teddy Bear trick." Leave a large teddy bear in the child's car seat when no one is in it. When the child is placed in the car seat, parents should bring the teddy bear up front as a reminder that their child is in the back seat.

Safety experts also suggest that parents put something else in the backseat so that they will remember to retrieve the baby when they get out of the car. A cellphone, a briefcase or a purse will work.

Since children are fascinated with cars, it is also important to keep car keys out of children's reach. The trunks of cars sold in the last three or four years also have emergency trunk releases so that people, or children, can get out if they find themselves locked inside. Some car companies, such as General Motors, have created a low-energy radar sensor that can even detect an infant's breathing to determine if a car is occupied. If it picks up breathing, an alarm sounds.

Experts also suggest the following:

Warn children not to play in or around vehicles.

Always lock car doors and trunks and keep keys out of children's reach.

Keep rear fold-down seats closed to help prevent children from getting into the trunk from the passenger area of a vehicle.

You can find more safety tips at kidsandcars.org.

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