A five-year-old Texas boy died Monday after being left inside a sweltering vehicle for several hours as his family prepared for a party, authorities said, the latest hot-car-related death involving a minor in the United States.
According to Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, the child was in the car for about two to three hours after his family returned home from purchasing items at a store for his 8-year-old sister’s birthday. The boy, who was not identified, was pronounced dead on the scene.
The sheriff’s office said Tuesday that investigators responded to the scene and the case is open, The Associated Press reported. The office said investigators will meet with the district attorney’s office to present their findings.
The boy is the fifth child to die in a hot car in the U.S. this year, Texas Heatstroke Task Force chair Johnny Humphreys told USA TODAY on Tuesday. This is the second hot car-related death in Texas in 2022, Humphreys said.
On average, 39 children die in a hot car-related death each year in the U.S., according to the nonprofit child safety organization Kids and Car Safety. The organization has reported that more than 1,000 children have died in hot cars since 1990.
“As we move into the summer and these really hot days, we want to bring awareness, we want people to take safety precautions and create habits in their everyday lives, to prevent this from happening,” Amber Rollins, director of Kids and Car Safety, told USA TODAY on Tuesday.
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A majority of hot car-related deaths are accidental. Nationally, about 53% of hot car-related deaths are a result of the child being forgotten and left unattended in vehicles, according to Humphreys.
About 26% of hot car-related deaths are due to the child gaining access to an unlocked vehicle and 20% of deaths are because a child is knowingly left in a vehicle, Humphreys said in an email.
Bev Kellner, project director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Passenger Safety and KidSafe Initiatives Project, noted that children are at a higher risk for heatstroke as their body temperatures rise three to five times faster than an adult’s body.
“Although it does not even have to be a hot summer day for this to happen, about 2/3 of pediatric vehicular heatstroke (PVH) deaths occur during the summer months (according to data from noheatstroke.org),” Humphreys said in an email.
Temperatures in a vehicle can increase up to 20 degrees in a span of 10 minutes and will continue to rise, according to Humphreys. Contrary to belief, rolling down a window or leaving it open does little to help with the heat, said Laura Dunn, a safety specialist for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
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Experts and advocate groups encourage caregivers and parents to follow precautions and safety advisories such as creating habits and ensuring that children cannot access unattended parked vehicles.
- Place a visual cue in the front passenger seat to show that the child is with you.
- Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle.
- Make it a routine or habit of checking the back door every time you park. To enforce this, place an item you can’t start your day without in the back seat.
- Keep vehicles locked at all times, especially when parked.
- Never leave keys within reach of children.
- Ask your childcare provider to call you right away if your child hasn’t arrived as scheduled.
“Pediatric Vehicular Heatstroke deaths are considered to be 100% preventable,” Humphreys said in an email. “Developing a few prevention habits can prevent family tragedies.”
Contributing: The Associated Press