SALT LAKE CITY — Now that summer is finally heating up, the Utah Department of Health is cautioning parents to remember kids in cars.
That's following a record number of deaths in 2018, when 52 children died in hot cars. It was the deadliest year on record in the past 20 years, according to the National Safety Council.
"These tragedies are happening far too often," Applegate said. "They are heartbreaking and preventable, and a reminder for all of us to be aware of the dangers of leaving a child in a hot car."
More than 55% of child deaths in hot cars are due to a caregiver's negligence, according to Kids and Cars, a national organization that advocates for children. It reports that "in most situations, this happens to the most loving, caring and protective parents."
The last time a child died in a hot car in Utah was in late-June 2017. A 2-year-old who was traveling with his family from Idaho to St. George fell asleep and was left in a family van for six hours while temperatures reached 105 degrees outside. Officials said the driver was not an immediate family member and cousins from different families had been in the van before it was parked at a family reunion site.
Kids are either being left in cars due to negligence or caregivers intentionally leaving them "just for a second," the National Safety Council reports. Another leading contributor to death in hot cars is that kids are getting into cars on their own, without a caregiver knowing.
Heatstroke, also known as hyperthermia, Applegate said, results when the body can't cool itself quickly enough and the body's temperature rises to dangerous levels, essentially cooking essential organs inside the body. Kids are at higher risk for heatstroke because their bodies heat up three to five times faster than adults, the health department reports.
On an 80-degree day, the temperature inside a car can increase 20 degrees in as little as 10 minutes, Applegate said, adding that it "keeps getting hotter with each passing minute."
"You can only imagine what happens when the temperature outside is 100 degrees or more. And cracking the window doesn't help," she said.
At 104 degrees, a child's major organs begin to shut down, with imminent death at 107 degrees farenheit. Child deaths from heatstroke have occurred in cars when the outside temperature was 60 degrees.
The KSL Weather Center predicts temperatures into the 90s this week, as the month ends, with even hotter temperatures expected in July, which is normal for summer in Utah. The average daily temperature in Utah in July is between 89 and 96, though parts of the state can reach temperatures well over 100 degrees, according to the Utah travel industry website, utah.com.
"The key to preventing these tragedies is for every parent and caregiver to understand that this can happen to anybody," Applegate said. She said deaths can be prevented by being aware and taking extra precaution.1 comment on this story
The Utah Department of Health asks parents to remember to ACT, which is an acronym for "Avoid heatstroke-related injury and death by never leaving a child alone in a car, not even for a minute." C stands for creating reminders, like putting a shoe or purse or backpack in the back seat when traveling with a child. And, T stands for "take action," meaning if a person sees a child alone in a car, call 911.
Applegate said emergency personnel are trained to respond to these situations and one call could very well save a child's life.