Unattended Kids in Hot Cars a Lethal Combination

Jun 23, 2010, 11:59 ET from General Motors

DETROIT, June 23 /PRNewswire/ --  

  • One Deadly Week Leading into Summer Claims Seven Young Lives
  • GM working with Safe Kids USA to increase 'Never Leave Your Child Alone' awareness

The arrival of summer is a reminder of a seasonal danger that takes dozens of young lives annually – children being left unattended in hot cars.

In the seven days from June 13-20, seven children around the country died of hyperthermia after being left in a hot car or after playing in one and being trapped inside.

According to research by Jan Null, a Certified Consulting Meteorologist who spent 25 years with the National Weather Service, 462 children – an average of 37 per year – have died after being left in hot cars since 1998. A full rundown of statistics and other information can be found here.

"There just isn't that much change in this from year to year," Null said. "That's probably because when these incidents happen, they are infrequent in a given community."

In fact, the 17 known deaths through June 22 occurred in 10 different states. There were six in Texas, two in Missouri and two in Tennessee. Despite being one of 15 states with a law against leaving children unattended in vehicles, Texas has the most cumulative deaths by far – 64. The next closest is Florida with 50 recorded deaths. Only four of 50 states have no recorded cases.

Chevrolet, General Motors and Safe Kids USA continue to promote education and awareness through the Never Leave Your Child Alone program.

"A child's core body temperature rises three to five times faster than an adult's, making them more susceptible to heat stroke – even on a day with mild temperatures," said Lorrie Walker, training manager and technical advisor for Safe Kids USA. "Our goal is to raise awareness of just how dangerous it is to leave a child unattended in a vehicle, as well as to remind parents and caregivers of important safety precautions they can take to avoid this preventable tragedy."

GM and Safe Kids USA urge all adults to take the following steps:

  • Call 911 if they see a child unattended in a vehicle.
  • Never leave children alone in a vehicle - even for a minute.
  • Set your cell phone or Blackberry reminder to be sure you drop your child off at daycare.
  • Place a cell phone, PDA, purse, briefcase, gym bag or whatever is to be carried from the car on the floor in front of the child in a back seat.  This forces the adult to open the back door and observe the child before leaving.
  • Set your computer "Outlook" program to ask you, "Did you drop off at daycare today?"
  • Have a plan with your child care provider to call if your child does not arrive when expected.
  • Check cars and trunks first if a child goes missing. 

"We have looked at a range of technologies to provide a warning to drivers that a sleeping infant or young child might be in the back seat, but we are convinced more than ever that this issue is best addressed by education and awareness," GM executive director of Safety Jeff Boyer said.

Null agrees.

"Keeping that message in front of the public, especially when temperatures are normal or just above normal, is critically important," he said. "We don't see as much of this when temperatures are really high."

The majority of child hyperthermia cases (51 percent) are caused by children being accidentally left behind. About 30 percent are unattended children who find their way into an unlocked vehicle and are overcome by heat and 18 percent are cases where parents or caregivers knowingly leave a child unattended.

The atmosphere and the windows of a car are relatively "transparent" to the sun's shortwave radiation and are warmed little.  However this shortwave energy does heat objects that it strikes.  For example, a dark dashboard or car seat can easily reach temperatures of 180 to more than 200 degrees F.

Objects such as a dashboard, steering wheel and child seat heat the adjacent air by conduction and convection and also give off long-wave radiation, which rapidly warms the air trapped inside a vehicle.

That heating can occur rapidly. The temperature inside a vehicle can rise 19 degrees in just 10 minutes and 45 to 50 degrees in one to two hours. Heat stroke can occur when the body temperature reaches 104 F and core body temperature of 107 degrees F is considered lethal as cells are damaged and internal organs shut down.

About General Motors:  General Motors, one of the world's largest automakers, traces its roots back to 1908.  With its global headquarters in Detroit, GM employs 205,000 people in every major region of the world and does business in some 157 countries.  GM and its strategic partners produce cars and trucks in 31 countries, and sell and service these vehicles through the following brands:  Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, FAW, GMC, Daewoo, Holden, Jiefang, Opel, Vauxhall and Wuling.  GM's largest national market is the United States, followed by China, Brazil, Germany, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Italy.  GM's OnStar subsidiary is the industry leader in vehicle safety, security and information services.  General Motors acquired operations from General Motors Corporation on July 10, 2009, and references to prior periods in this and other press materials refer to operations of the old General Motors Corporation.  More information on the new General Motors can be found at www.gm.com.

SOURCE General Motors