Here’s what you need to know to prevent PVH, which is completely under your control.
How People Die From Heatstroke
If someone’s core body temperature gets too high, measuring 104 degrees Fahrenheit or more, they risk overwhelming their thermoregulatory system. If their body temperature reaches 107F, it results in death from heatstroke.
People may think leaving someone in a car couldn’t possibly result in heatstroke. But in just 10 minutes, a car can increase in temperature by as much as 20F (and rolling down the window makes no difference).
This is true even if you’re parked in shady areas or when the outside temperature is 80F or less. An 80 percent of the temperature increase can occur in the first 10 minutes, so leaving your child in a hot vehicle for even a few minutes can be lethal.
The majority of PVH deaths occur when a parent or caregiver forgets a child is in the car and leaves them locked inside alone; this is also known as “forgotten baby syndrome.” However, sometimes, children let themselves into cars and, sometimes, caregivers think it’s OK to leave kids in cars unattended and do so purposely. The below data from the United States Department of Transportation shows the most common causes of PVH deaths.1
Just as there are auto insurance myths, there are myths surrounding hot car safety, as well. Let’s start debunking:
- It’s OK to leave kids in a car for a short period of time: You may not think running into a store for a few minutes while your toddler is in the car’s backseat is a big deal. However, children’s body temperatures rise three to five times faster than adults, making every minute count.
- It’s fine to leave kids in the car if it’s not hot out: Even if it’s only 70F outside, a car’s internal temperature can reach over 115F. Although most PVH deaths occur in the summer, they’re possible in any temperature 57F or warmer.
- It’s impossible to forget that kids are in the car: Child care is difficult. Parents are tired, distracted and stressed out, making it entirely possible to forget that their kids are in the car. Especially with rear-facing car seats or sleeping children, it’s a mistake many parents have made, unfortunately. Most parents who forget their kids are in the cars first forget to drop them off at preschool or day care and these incidents are most likely to occur on Thursdays and Fridays, at the end of the long workweek.
- Your car is light-colored and, therefore, will remain cool: It’s true that cars with darker colors absorb more light, making them heat up faster than cars painted with lighter colors that reflect light. For example, white and silver cars reflect about 60 percent of sunlight, staying cooler than dark cars. That said, you shouldn’t leave your kid in any vehicle unattended, even if it’s light-colored.2
- Kids cannot access cars on their own: If you leave the keys out and the children unattended, your kids can access cars on their own and get stuck in them. This cause of PVH deaths is most likely to occur on Sundays.
- You can leave your kids in the car if your windows are down: Unfortunately, rolling down your window won’t slow the heating process or decrease the temperature.3
Good Samaritan Laws by State
Every state and Washington, D.C., has some form of Good Samaritan law, which applies to people voluntarily helping others in emergencies and protecting these volunteers from being sued in civil court for damages, injuries and deaths. In the case of leaving kids in a hot car, a Good Samaritan would either break the window, try to find the parent or call the police to save the child from a PVH death. For Good Samaritan laws to apply, however, the following circumstances are required:
- It must be an emergency.
- The help must be voluntary.
- The victim consented to care if they are conscious and responsive. If the victim is unconscious and unresponsive, there is “implied consent” that allows for someone to help.4
- The care is free.
- The care is performed “in good faith.”
- The care is not gross negligence or willful misconduct, which we’ll define more below. However, it can be ordinary negligence, meaning the person tried but did not perform as a reasonable healthcare provider would.
Good Samaritan laws would not apply if:
- There is gross negligence, meaning the person did not follow the accepted standard of care and actions were “willful, wanton or even malicious.”
- It was not an emergency.
- The victim was responsive and did not consent to care.
- The person charged for their care.
- The care occurred in a hospital, clinic or doctor’s office (however, in Colorado, doctors in hospitals are protected as long as the care was performed outside of their normal scope of responsibilities, they had no duty to respond and they weren’t paid to respond).
In Rhode Island, Vermont and Minnesota, there are duty-to-act laws, where you are legally required to provide assistance to a person who needs emergency medical treatment.5
Good Samaritan laws allow people to save children from unnecessary PHV deaths without the risk of getting sued. However, the best way to save children from these deaths is for no one to leave them in hot cars in the first place.
How to Prevent Hot Car Deaths
Here are the best ways to prevent PHV deaths, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA):
- Don’t leave your kids in a car unattended, even for a few minutes.
- If you see a kid in a vehicle unattended, first try to locate their parents. If you can’t and believe they are in a nearby store, have the store’s management make an announcement over an intercom system or call 911. In some cases, you may have to break a window to access the car and rescue the child.
- Before you leave your car, check for any kids, particularly sleeping babies.
- When you’re not using it, lock your car and hide your key fobs so that your kids can’t access them.
- Teach your kids that vehicles aren’t a place to play. They should only be in a vehicle if you are driving them somewhere.
- Teach kids that if they’re locked in a vehicle and can’t get out through the passenger doors, they should try the front driver’s-side door. If that is also locked, they should honk the horn for outside help.6