A relatively new law in Texas requires hot-car death education for parents and daycare facilities. Additionally, Texas penal statute 22.10 (2013) already exists.
This law is titled ; Leaving a child in a vehicle.
In this law, a person commits an offense if he or she intentionally or knowingly leaves a child in a motor vehicle for longer than five minutes, knowing that the child is younger than 7 years of age and not attended in the vehicle by a person who is 14 years of age or older. An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.
Personally, I don’t think this statute goes far enough or has sufficient teeth for a serious bite.
Nationally, over 700 child deaths have occurred since 1998 due to heat stroke and other heat-related causes when children are left unattended in hot vehicles during warmer months.
To the average parent, leaving a child in a hot vehicle is a preposterous notion; yet, it happens. Over 700 times it has happened and for a variety of reasons.
Two of these deaths have occurred already in 2016. Twenty-four occurred in 2015 and 663 have occurred since 1998. This averages 37 completely avoidable deaths of children each year.
One would choose to believe no one would intentionally leave a child inside a steamy-hot vehicle to die. Unfortunately, according to one study, 17 percent of hot-car deaths were attributed to this appalling reason.
According to a San Jose State University Department of Meteorology and Climate Science study, 54 percent of these cases occurred as a result of a child being forgotten in a vehicle by a caregiver.
Twenty-nine percent of deaths occurred as a result of children playing inside an unattended vehicle, and 1 percent is attributed to reasons unknown.
The San Jose University study found that the ages of children who died from heat-related causes inside vehicles ranged from 5 days to 14 years of age. The study also claims that more than half of the deaths were children under 2 years of age.
Let’s examine the definition and symptoms of heat stroke. Heat stroke is clinically defined as a situation, during which a person’s temperature exceeds 104 degrees F and the body’s thermoregulatory mechanism is overwhelmed.
Symptoms include dizziness, disorientation, confusion, agitation, sluggishness, seizures, hot, dry skin that is reddened but not sweaty or clammy. Symptoms may also include loss of consciousness, rapid heartbeat and hallucinations.
When a core body temperature reaches 107 degrees F or greater, damage to cells occurs and internal organs begin to shut down. This chain of events can quickly lead to death.
Here’s a startling and awakening fact: A child’s thermoregulatory system is not as efficient as that of an adult. A child’s body temperature warms at a rate 3 to 5 times faster than an adult.
A heating study within San Jose University’s study resulted in details of the rate of heating inside a vehicle caused by the direct rays of the sun.
It found that at an ambient temperature of between 72 and 96 degrees, using a dark blue, mid-sized sedan with medium gray interior with windows slightly open, temperatures inside the vehicle rose dramatically in a short period of time as follows:
10 minutes —19 degrees F
20 minutes —29 degrees F
30 minutes — 34 degrees F
60 minutes — 43 degrees F
1 to 2 hours — 45-50 degrees F
This study showed that “cracking” the windows had little effect on the retardation of increasing heat.
Let’s cut to the chase and talk prevention:
Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, even for one minute.
If you see a child unattended in a hot vehicle, call 911.
When leaving a vehicle scan the interior front and back to ensure that no one is left inside, especially sleeping babies.
Always lock your car when unattended and put keys out of sight and in a location inaccessible to children. Educate children that cars are not a play area and they are off limits absent the presence of a parent or guardian.
If a child is missing, always check the pool first and the car second, including the trunk area.
Place a stuffed animal in the car seat when unoccupied and transfer the stuffed animal to the front seat as a reminder that the car seat is occupied. Consider placing your purse or briefcase in the back seat. When reaching for it, you may notice that your child is still in the car.
Finally, have a plan in place with your childcare provider or school, that if your child is absent you are immediately notified.
As is the case with most avoidable crimes and tragedies, prevention is the key.
John Vander WERFF is a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, with a decade in city and county law enforcement and 20 years with state police.