‘Beat the Heat, Check the Backseat’ – Children, Hot Cars, and Fatal Mistakes

Cooper Harris loved trucks and cars, had just learned the color red and was a happy baby,” read the 22-month-old’s obituary. Though the sun was shining as the temperature hit 91 degrees Fahrenheit, it would soon set on a boy from Marietta, Georgia. The cherubic child had blonde hair, bright eyes and an even brighter smile. He was discovered lifeless seven hours after his father strapped him into his car seat.

Cooper Harris, like too many before him, died of heatstroke after being left in a car on a sunny summer day.  He is the fifteenth child to die this way thus far in 2014.

Credit: SFSU

This graph depicts the number of children who have died of heatstroke from being left in cars since 1998.
Credit: SFSU

Hot car deaths can happen even when it’s not 100 degrees outside. They can occur in temperatures as low as 57 degrees, but the greenhouse effect of an enclosed space heats cars rapidly. In summer, deaths can happen even when cars have windows cracked open or when they are parked in the shade.  And when temperatures reach 80 degrees outside, temperatures can reach deadly levels inside a vehicle in just 10 minutes.

One of the main risks of being left in a hot car is heatstroke. Heatstroke occurs when your body temperature reaches over 104 degrees Fahrenheit and continues to rise. Some of the symptoms are flushed skin, rapid and shallow breathing, and racing heart rate, and eventually unconsciousness or even a coma. Children’s thermoregulatory systems are not as good adults’ – their body temperature can heat up three to five times faster than adults– so they are even more at risk.

Body temperatures of over 104 degrees can damage your heart, brain, kidneys and muscles, and eventually serious complications or death.


The Traumatic Experience

WeatherBug Meteorologist Jacob Wycoff did an in-depth simulation last year to study what being trapped in a hot car does to humans.

Watch the video:

Here’s a timeline of Jacob’s experience:

  • At 1 minute, the temperature was 92 degrees in the car, and 88 outside.
  • 6 minutes – 100 degrees in the car, and Jacob begins to sweat.
  • 10 minutes – 105 degrees, and Jacob is sweating through his shirt.
  • 15 minutes – temperature hits 114 degrees, and Jacob starts to have difficulty breathing.
  • 20 minutes – 120 degrees Fahrenheit. He is soaking his shirt through in the video.  That is a 30 degree temperature climb in 20 minutes.
  • 25 minutes – 120 degrees. A camera fails from the heat.
  • 30 minutes – almost 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Jacob’s shirt is completely drenched in sweat. Jacob has a heart rate of 140, the beginning of a heatstroke. He is cooled by the 90-degree heat outside the car.

A time-lapse illustration
Credit: General Motors via The Washington Post


Warnings and Prevention

The unfathomable tragedy of leaving a child strapped in a car can happen to anyone – all it takes is a moment of forgetfulness. In the words of The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten:

The wealthy [can leave their children in cars], it turns out. And the poor, and the middle class. Parents of all ages and ethnicities do it. Mothers are just as likely to do it as fathers. It happens to the chronically absent-minded and to the fanatically organized, to the college-educated and to the marginally literate. In the last 10 years, it has happened to a dentist. A postal clerk. A social worker. A police officer. An accountant. A soldier. A paralegal. An electrician. A Protestant clergyman. A rabbinical student. A nurse. A construction worker. An assistant principal. It happened to a mental health counselor, a college professor and a pizza chef. It happened to a pediatrician. It happened to a rocket scientist.


So what can you do? 

  • NEVER leave a child unattended in a car, even for a few minutes.
  • Make a habit of looking in vehicles, both front and back, before locking the doors and walking away.
  • Ask your childcare center to give you a call if you don’t drop off your child when you say you will.
  • Put your purse – or other valuables – in the backseat so you will take your child out with them.
  • If you ever see a child locked in a car, call 911 – minutes save lives.
  • Get them out of the car as soon as you can, and cool the child by spraying them with cool water from a garden hose


Our hearts go out to the families who have endured these unimaginable losses. So please, check the backseat to help your loved ones stay safer.


Stay Safe. Know Before™.

– The WeatherBug – Earth Networks Team

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This entry was posted in Awareness, General, Safety, Summer, Weather Stats.