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NYC Twins Die In Hot Car: This Is Why It Keeps Happening

A family in the Bronx experienced a horrific tragedy this weekend when their one-year-old twins died after being left in a hot car. According to The New York Times, the twins were forgotten in their father’s vehicle on Friday morning after he mistakenly thought he had dropped them off at daycare. When the children were found eight-hours later, first responders concluded they died of heatstroke from the scorching temperatures inside of the car. 

Even though temperatures outside had not gone above the mid-80’s, officials reported the twins had body temperatures of 108 degrees. The father of the twins is facing multiple criminal charges in the aftermath of this terrible accident, but he is far from being the only parent to make this fatal error. 

Hot Car Deaths Are On the Rise

Since 1998, NoHeatStroke.org reports over 818 children have died from vehicular heatstroke nationwide. The United States saw a record high of 52 hot car deaths in 2018, the highest total in 20 years. So far, 30 children have died this year of the same preventable death, and the numbers continue to climb. 

Eleven of the hot car deaths recorded since 1998 have occurred in New York State. Shockingly, three of these fatalities happened in the last six months. New York City parents cannot take these instances lightly, or attribute the deaths of these children to strict negligence or cruelty. With the passing of National Heatstroke Prevention Day on July 31, it’s more important than ever for parents to stay informed of the risks and to know the tools available to prevent future tragedies. 

Reasons Why Children Are Left In Hot Cars

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (N.H.T.S.A.) identifies three significant risk factors that lead to hot car deaths in the United States. 

Parents Leaving Children on Accident

Similar to the incident in NYC this weekend, more than half of all hot car deaths occur when parents forget to take their child out of the vehicle. The N.H.T.S.A. reports 44 percent of vehicular heatstroke deaths happen when parents mistakenly believe they dropped their child off at daycare or preschool, and most occur at the end of the workweek on Thursdays and Fridays. 

New studies have been released in the last few years that show how even the most responsible parent can forget a child in the car. According to a study published in Consumer Reports, scientists have identified this type of memory failure as a condition called ‘Forgotten Baby Syndrome.’ 

Leading experts of the study found the everyday stressed parents face easily cause memory lapses such as forgetting to drop a child at daycare. Lack of sleep, interrupted schedules, or the absence of audio cues if children fall asleep in the car, can easily cause parents to go on autopilot to work without a second thought.

Parents Leave Children Intentionally 

Approximately 18 percent of hot car deaths occur when parents leave their children in the car for what they believe will be a short time. Whether they are running errands or distracted by chores inside the house, parents are leaving their children in the car for just enough time to cause a fatal reaction to the heat. 

Children Play in Hot Cars

At least 26 percent of hot car deaths occur when a child becomes trapped in a hot car. It’s easier for a child to get into an unlocked car than it is for them to get out. Heatstroke can onset in the matter of 15-minutes under the right conditions, leaving plenty of time for children to be in danger if a parent does not know they are in the car. 

Heatstroke In The Car Happens Fast

It doesn’t take hours for a child to die in a hot car- only minutes. In a safety video created by the N.H.T.S.A., officials show parents how quickly cars can heat up to fatal temperatures. Using an average size vehicle with cracked windows, it only took 10-minutes for the internal temperature of the car to reach 109 degrees on a day where the outside temperature was approximately 88. 

Heatstroke begins when the core body temperature hits 104 degrees. This occurs three to five times faster in children than adults. Cars create excellent conditions for trapping heat and humidity. Even when the air conditioning is on, you are parked in the shade, or it’s cool outside, children can die of heatstroke inside the car. 

Technology That Can Save Lives

As hot car deaths continue to skyrocket, car manufacturers and other technology companies are stepping up to help. Several innovative ideas have come into play to help parents reduce the risk of vehicular heatstroke, in both high and low tech options. 

Rear Seat Reminder Systems

Some automobile companies have begun installing systems in vehicles to alert drivers when there is someone in the backseat. According to Cars.com, these are a few of the systems currently available: 

  • Nissan Rear Door Alert: If a driver opens their rear door in the beginning of a trip, this system will make the car horn honk multiple times when the car parks and the driver exits.
  • GM’s Rear Seat Reminder System: This system will chime at a driver as a reminder to check the backseat when the vehicle turns off, similar to when a driver leaves their keys in the car. 
  • Hyundai Rear Occupant Alert System: Hyundai’s system will display a message for the driver on the LCD screen in the front console if it detects a child in the backseat. If the driver leaves the car, the car will honk, flashlights, and send an alert to the driver’s phone to check and see if they forgot someone. 

Car Seat Alarms

Portable car seat alarms are excellent choices for parents who cannot afford new vehicles with advanced safety features. These are the most common products on the market highlighted by Fatherly:

  • Sense A Life: This wireless car seat alarm provides verbal reminders to parents when they open the car door to remove the child from the car seat. This device includes LED lights, smartphone alerts, and a preprogrammed emergency contact alert if a child is not removed from the seat. 
  • ChildMinder SoftClip: This digital baby harness that syncs to a smartphone app or key fob to sound an alarm seconds after the driver walks away from a buckled car seat. 
  • Sunshine Baby iRemind: This alarm comes in the form of a soft sensing pad that sits under a child’s seat cushion. The alarm detects a child’s weight and syncs to an app that alerts a parent who walks more than 15-feet away that a child is still in the car. 
  • Elpho eClip: This device clips on the shoulder strap of a car seat and sync to a smartphone app and key fob, setting off an alarm if a parent steps away from the vehicle. It also has a built-in thermometer to determine when the backseat is too hot or cold. 
  • Evenflo SensorSafe Car Seat: Rather than a portable car seat alarm, Evenflo’s Advanced Embrace DLX Infant Car Seat with SensorSafe is made with a built-in sensor and plugs into the car. The seat recognizes when the engine is off and will provide a series of chimes to remind a parent to remove the child from the seat. 

Smartphone Apps

Safety apps are popping up everywhere to help remind busy parents to check the backseat. Even already popular travel apps are adding features to protect children. These are the most common apps Motherly encourages parents to try:

  • Waze: Parents who already utilize the Waze app have access to a safety setting allowing them set reminders. One of these can alert parents when they arrive at their destination to remember to check the backseat for their children.
  • The Backseat App: Available for both iPhones and Android models, this app works without Bluetooth. The Backseat App reminds the driver to check the back of their car when it is parked. If the alert is not shut off by the parent, three emergency contacts are alerted. 
  • Kars4Kids: The Kars4Kids app works through Google Play and connects to your car’s Bluetooth. An alarm sounds when a parent leaves the car to alert the driver to check the seat. 

Regardless of what method New York City parents use to remind themselves to check the back seat, try something. Put your purse in the back, leave a sign on your door, or place a teddy bear in the front passenger seat when your child is riding, but try not to rely on your memory alone. 

Don’t Take A Chance- Say Something 

Hot car deaths are 100 percent preventable. If you see a child alone in a car, with no parent or guardian in the driver or passenger seat, the N.H.T.S.A. advises patrons to take the following steps: 

  1. Check to make sure the child is okay and responsive. Call 911 if the child appears unconscious or in distress. 
  2. If the child seems okay, try to locate the parent or guardian. Ask a security manager to help if possible. 
  3. If the child is not okay or is in distress, try to get them out of the car. This could mean breaking a window to get in if necessary, but the life of a child is worth it. 

Sources

Fitzsimmons, Emma. “Mother of Twins Who Died in Hot Car: ‘I Still Love My Husband’.” The New York Times. (Received July 30, 2019) https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/28/nyregion/twins-hot-car-mother.html

“Heatstroke Deaths of Children in Vehicles- Deaths By State.” NoHeatStroke.org (Received July 30, 2019) https://www.noheatstroke.org/state.htm

“Heatstroke Prevention.” National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (N.H.T.S.A).(Received July 30, 2019) https://www.trafficsafetymarketing.gov/get-materials/child-safety/heatstroke-prevention

“Help! Too Many Children Are Dying in Hot Cars.” National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (N.H.T.S.A). (Received July 30, 2019) https://www.nhtsa.gov/child-safety/help-too-many-children-are-dying-hot-cars

Thomas, Emily A.. “Research Shows That Anyone Could Forget Kids in Hot Cars.” Consumer Reports. (Received July 30, 2019) https://www.consumerreports.org/car-safety/anyone-could-forget-kids-in-hot-car-forgotten-baby-syndrome/

Newman, Jennifer. “High-Tech and Low-Tech Ways to Help Parents Prevent In-Car Heatstroke.” Cars.com. (Received July 30, 2019) https://www.cars.com/articles/high-tech-and-low-tech-ways-to-help-parents-prevent-in-car-heatstroke-1420700028987/

Baldwin, Dave. “8 Life-Saving Car Seat Alarms That Remind Parents There’s a Baby in the Back Seat.” Fatherly. (Received July 30, 2019) https://www.fatherly.com/gear/best-car-seat-alarms/

Marcoux, Heather. “5 safety apps that remind parents there’s a baby in the back seat.” Motherly. (Received July 30, 2019) https://www.mother.ly/news/best-car-seat-sensor-app