Looking twice can save a pedestrian’s life when crossing the street. Looking twice before turning or advancing through an intersection is a good rule of thumb to protect drivers. And many have seen the purple bumper stickers that read, “Look twice. Save a life. Motorcycles are everywhere.”
This premise also applies to parents or caretakers who transport children, and especially so as the summer season begins.
Georgia’s Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) just finished its 10th annual “Look Again” campaign, which reminds drivers of this phenomenon. DECAL commissioner Amy Jacobs said they launched this campaign purposefully ahead of Memorial Day, as that is the unofficial start of summer. And with school out, temperatures rising, and kids spending more time at home, the recipe is tragically perfect for caretakers accidentally leaving children in backseats of hot cars.
Many newer cars and some commuting apps have reminders for drivers if there is a person or object in the backseat. But those really haven’t caused a major decrease in hot car deaths. In that same vein, safer cars have not slowed roadway fatalities.
These tragedies happen because of user error. Point blank.
Jacobs said that data shows that because they weigh less, children’s body temperatures rise much faster than adults’ do. A kid’s temperature can increase by 10 to 20 degrees in just a few minutes inside a hot car. This leaves very little time to help a child, especially if they are very young or small.
Jacobs said people who notice children inside hot cars should immediately call the police. DECAL does not officially recommend passersby to rescue children themselves. However, there may be no choice if the child appears to be in distress.
Some signs that children are starting to wither in these circumstances, Jacobs said, are that they do not interact with someone in the window. They also may appear flushed and potentially be unconscious.
Besides alerting options on the dashboard or inside an app, DECAL recommends drivers of children leave a stuffed animal in the front seat to remind them that a child is in the back.
Even in doing so, reminders can become wallpaper. Anyone who ever drives kids — whether that be a daycare bus driver, a parent, or an occasional babysitter — should simply get in the habit of checking the backseat a second time before leaving a vehicle. Pet owners should go ahead and get on the “Look Twice Bus,” too. So should caregivers of senior citizens.
The bigger mistake some parents make may actually not be forgetting their kids, but thinking they can leave them in the car for a short time. Unloading children from the car, especially unbuckling them from car seats, is a real pain for a short trip inside to pick up one item at a store.
But the pain is far worse if the child stays in the hot car.
With remote starters and key fobs that do not require a key in the ignition, drivers may take short cuts and leave the vehicles running, with the key fob in the car, so the child is in the car with the AC. But this opens the opportunity for auto theft and kidnappings, since a crook can usually unlock the car by pulling the handle. And older kids could actually get behind the wheel and try to drive.
NoHeatStroke.org keeps stats on U.S. hot car deaths, dating back to 1998. 938 children in our country have died of this in those 25-plus years. 33 died in 2022. 53 died each in 2018 and 2019, before a large drop during the COVID shutdown. The average number of hot car deaths per year since 1998 is 38. More than half were forgotten accidentally by a caregiver.
But Jacobs stressed another danger, too. NoHeatStroke.org said more than 20% of hot car deaths in the last 25 years have been from children gaining access to cars on their own. Jacobs said that parents need to be diligent about locking cars, even if parked in the garage.
There have been three hot car deaths in the U.S. in 2023. Two were in Florida in 80-degree weather. One was in Alabama at only 79 degrees. Metro Atlanta has already eclipsed 90 degrees this month. Fatalities are low now, but they are certain to rise in conjunction with the heat and humidity.
More than 31% of hot car deaths in the last quarter-century are babies under one year old. A large percentage were five years and under.
Besides the obvious grief and turmoil this tragedy brings, a parent or caretaker who leaves a child in a hot car can face serious legal trouble, even if it was accidental.
The problems are obvious, as are the demographics. In the grand scheme, there are very few of these tragedies per capita. But any hot car death is too many. And all are completely avoidable. Look again, redundant as it is. That extra step may save a life in the most sensitive parts of our population. Seniors, pets, and especially kids may not thank a driver for checking the back seat again, but the reward is something for which all parties can be grateful.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.