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Dangers of leaving a child in a car during excessively hot days

CENTRAL COAST, Calif. (KION) This weekend is the official start to summer, and the temperatures across the state are well above normal, with daytime highs reaching the triple digits. These toasty temps are a reminder why parents and caregivers need to double check the back seat as we head into the hottest months of the year.

“There’s no good reason to leave a child unintended in the car,” expressed Jan Null, CCM and Adjunct Professor of Meteorology San Jose State University

Three-old Jessica Campos of Visalia, lost her life after being left in a car by her mother for more then three hours, in early June. This was the second hot car death nationwide this year. According to; California ranks number three in child hot car deaths with 63 fatalities since 1990. Campos’ death brought the total to 64.

Kids and Cars is an organization that strives to inform parents and caregivers on the dangers of leaving a child in a car for even just a minute.

“The thing with kids, as adults you have more reserves then kids do. Kids decline very rapidly. That’s why its important to never, ever leave a child in a car. Because if it is hot enough then the child’s condition can decline rapidly,” Carla Spencer, RN and ER Directors for Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System (SVMHS).

In addition, along with two U.S. Representatives introduced the Hot Car Act during a virtual news conference, in May, which would require new vehicles to add technology that could detect the presence of an occupant inside.

Jan Null is the Former Lead Forecaster for the National Weather Service, San Francisco, and Founder of Null started looking into the science of hot car deaths after he was approached by a San Jose journalist back in 2001 after the death of a five month old.

“In that first 10 minutes on average you get about a 19 degree rise inside a vehicle and it ads on. The next ten minutes its ads another 10 degrees and after an hour its averages about 43 degrees above what the outside air temperature is,” said Null.

Temperatures outside don’t need to be extreme, to be dangerous inside a vehicle. Even on a mild 70 degree Central Coast day, temperatures can increase to a toasty 90 plus degrees in just a matter of minutes.

But, how could anyone forget their most valuable and vulnerable passenger? Null says there are three main factors as to why children are found in hot cars. “The largest one, about 54% of the cases are where they are accidentally left in a vehicle by a parent or another caregiver and often times there is a disruption in the routine.”

That disruption could be the parent, who doesn’t normally pick up or drop off a child someplace, like daycare. Another 26 percent of cases related to hot car deaths is when a child enters an unlocked car on their own. The child could become trapped inside or get overcome by the heat then passes out. The last category, about 19% of cases, Null said, is when a parent or other caregiver knowingly leaves their child in the car while they go do something else like an appointment, walking inside a gas station quickly to pay, or meeting up at a bar, casino or race track… all things people have done. Regardless, all three factors are 100% preventable.

How? Null’s advice, keep a reminder in the child ’s car seat, like a stuffed animal. When you place the child in the car seat, bring the stuffed animal upfront as a visible reminder.

You can also make sure your car is locked, and teach your children not to play in vehicles. If they should get trapped teach them how to honk the horn to get out. And if you think leaving a couple windows cracked will keep the inside of the vehicle cool, think again. That’s something Null has already tested and studied in his original research back in 2002.

“I cracked all four windows about two inches kind of what you would normally do… and I only found a temperature difference of about 2 and 3 degrees,” said Null.

What if you see a child left in a hot car? Spencer says, open the car, get them out of the seat, take off any covers like blankets, but ultimately leave it to the medical professionals. “The best thing to do is call 911. Right. Because what you don’t want to do is delay medical care.”

Not sure if you have the right to free a child from a hot car? California just this year, implemented a new law that took effect January, that exempts a Good Samaritan from civil or criminal liability for trespassing or damaging a vehicle when rescuing a child 6 years old or younger, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Remember your pets are also just as much at risk. It’s a message shared from and PETA, who have partnered together to raise awareness about the danger of hot cars.

Article Topic Follows: Special Reports
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Erika Bratten

Erika Bratten is a weather forecaster for KION News Channel 5/46.


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