Experts fear heat, return to old routines put kids at risk of being left in hot cars

Rebecca Preator of Saratoga Springs and her family. Preator worries about leaving her 2-year-old daughter in the car by accident and teams up with KSL TV to discuss how families can prevent that from happening. (Rebecca Preator via KSL TV)

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Many parents were left out of practice taking kids to day care and summer activities after the pandemic. Experts warn that could increase the risk now of forgetting a young child in a hot car.

Simple precautions can protect kids from danger.

Life is busy for Rebecca Preator of Saratoga Springs. She has five kids, "all the way from 10 to 2."

As more places are opening up, the family is on the go with summer activities post-pandemic. She worried about forgetting her 2-year-old daughter in a hot car when taking her alone. "She's at the age where she could fall asleep in her car seat. I'm so used to the noise and telling me what they need out the window that I could forget her," Preator said.

In both 2018 and 2019, 53 kids died in hot cars, according to the National Safety Council.

In 2020, that number decreased to 25 because of quarantine. Experts fear more kids could be at risk this year because people have been out of their routine, which increases the susceptibility of leaving a child.

"Things like being stressed, fatigued, a change of routine, all things that you know, we're all experiencing, especially right now. Those are things that actually push your brain into autopilot," said Jessica Strong, community health manager at Primary Children's Hospital.

Most often deaths occur in hot cars when a caregiver forgets a child (54.2%), a child gains access by themselves (25.2%), or someone knowingly leaves them in the car (19.1%), according to the National Safety Council.

"It can feel pretty mild to you just you know, sitting outside 70 or 80 degrees, but that vehicle heats up very, very quickly," Strong said.

When left in a hot car, a child's body temperature can rise three to five times faster than an adult's, according to Strong. Kids are more prone to heatstroke and death when their core temperature rises too high. Within minutes inside a hot car, it's dangerous.

Preator said, "I took her to the store and I got all the way to the door before I realized I'd left her in the back seat. I was lucky, it wasn't summertime at the time, but it really makes you think, 'Oh my gosh, what can I do so that never occurs again?'"

Taking these steps can prevent a tragedy, according to experts at Primary Children's Hospital:

  • First, leave something you need to start your day in the back seat. Strong said, "Something that you know you're going to need at your destination, whether it's your cellphone, you know, your purse or briefcase, a shoe, something that you definitely are going to go looking for."
  • Next, keep cars locked, even if you don't have kids, and keep keys out of reach.
  • Third, teach kids to avoid playing in cars, and to honk the horn if they get stuck inside.
  • Finally, teach them about the trunk release, a glow-in-the-dark lever in the trunk of a car.

These are all important ways to keep kids safe in the heat of summer. For more information click here.

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Heather Simonsen


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