Late last month, as many people were preparing for the holiday week, a story in The Oregonian offered a painful reminder of an issue that arises every summer. The paper reported that a 21-month-old girl in Roseburg died after her mother left her unattended in the back seat of her car for hours. What made the story even more shocking was the mother’s occupation: a nurse, and the car’s location: a medical center parking lot.
The mother later “told police she believed she had dropped her daughter off at day care before arriving at work that morning.” In that respect the case resembles a 2014 incident in Hillsboro that led to the death of a six-month-old baby – and, indeed, dozens of similar cases across the country every year.
As an article published this week at CNN.com noted, “as of July 1, 18 children have already lost their lives this year in hot car death incidents.” The news channel reports that over the last two decades the US has averaged 37 hot car deaths per year with July often proving to be the single deadliest month. That, in turn, raises a deeper question: why has the number of hot car deaths nationwide remained so stubbornly consistent over more than two decades despite widespread public awareness campaigns? A chart on the CNN website (see link below) shows the annual death toll to be remarkably consistent over time. There were a few years (2010, 2005) when it approached 50, and one (2015) when it fell into the low 20s. But, those outliers aside, the figure year-in-year-out is right around that 20-year average of 37 deaths. This is despite the fact that it is an issue nearly everyone who owns a car is aware of, and one about which public information campaigns are conducted every year.
The Oregonian notes that the temperature in Roseburg on the day of the toddler’s death there was 79 degrees. That highlights another often overlooked truth about this issue: it is not confined to places like Florida, Arizona, Texas and Southern California because it does not have to be baking hot outside for a closed car’s interior to become oven-like. As an article at the SafeKids Worldwide website notes, temperatures in a closed car can rise by “up to 19 degrees in just 10 minutes.”
SafeKids, an organization which I have long actively supported, also publishes a very useful ‘Take Action Toolkit’ on their website (see link below). As a Portland lawyer who has long worked to promote laws and legal measures to keep kids safe I support their efforts and encourage everyone to take a few minutes to look over the materials at the links in this blog post. The annual total of hot car deaths may not be dropping, but that is no reason for any of us to let up on efforts to stop it. We are now entering the hottest 8 or 10 weeks of the year. It’s a time when we all need to pay more attention to the kids (and pets) riding in the back of our cars – no matter how busy or hurried we may be on any given day.
SafeKids Worldwide: Summer marks peak of hot car deaths