As summer temps continue to soar, it’s a good time for a reminder about the dangers of leaving kids in a hot car. Hot car deaths happen when babies, toddlers or kids are left in hot cars and die from heat stroke.

According to NoHeatStroke.org, a nonprofit organization, 890 children have died of Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke (PVH) since 1998. In NJ, there were 14 hot car deaths from 1998 to 2020, with the victims 14 years old or younger. The startling fact is that all of these deaths were preventable.

New Jersey ranks 19th in child hot car deaths per capita while 132 children have died from heat stroke after having been left in hot cars in Texas. Florida ranked the next highest with 96 hot car deaths. Alaska, New Hampshire and Vermont have not had any reported hot car deaths of kids since 1998.

In New Jersey, the most recent hot-car death occurred in 2019 in Lakewood and involved a 21-month-old toddler who was left in the car for about 2.5 hours.  In 1998, 4-month-old baby died from heat exposure after her mother left her in a parked car for 3.5 hours. Other hot car deaths have been reported in Atlantic City, Westampton, Jersey city, Newton, East Orange and Camden with the ages of the victims ranging from 4 months to 10 years old.

It doesn’t take long for heatstroke to occur. In just 10 minutes, a car can heat up by 20 degrees and become deadly, says the the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Kids are more susceptible to hot car deaths, and not just due to their possible inability to escape a car. According to the NHTSA, a child’s body temperature rises three to five times faster than that of an adult. Heatstroke begins when the core body temperature reaches about 104 degrees, and children can die when theirs reaches 107.

NHTSA hopes people will heed some basic rules to stop these preventable deaths.

Here are some tips for parents and caregivers from the NHTSA:

  1. Never leave a child in a vehicle unattended — even if the windows are partially open or the engine is running and the air conditioning is on.
  2. Make it a habit to check your entire vehicle — front and back — before locking the door and walking away. Train yourself to “Park, Look, Lock,” or always ask yourself, “Where’s Baby?”
  3. Ask your child care provider to call if your child doesn’t show up for care as expected.
  4. Place a personal item such as a purse or briefcase in the back seat, as another reminder to look before you lock. Write a note or place a stuffed animal in the passenger’s seat to remind you that a child is in the back seat.
  5. Store car keys out of a child’s reach and teach children that a vehicle is not a play area.

NHTSA also reminds parents and caregivers to lock their vehicles so kids can’t play inside them. If you see a child in a hot car, act fast and get them out. Then call 911.