Tips for keeping children safe from heatstroke in vehicles. And yes, tips are needed.

It’s not officially summer yet, but already at least a dozen children have died this year in the United States from vehicle-induced heatstroke, according to research by San Francisco meteorologist Jan Null.

Since 1998, there have been an average of 38 annual deaths from heatstroke in vehicles. Most of those (52 percent) occurred when a caretaker unintentionally forgot the child in the car. Another 29 percent were the result of children playing in unattended vehicles they may have entered on their own. A nine-month-old was found dead in Florida on Monday after her father apparently forgot to drop her off at daycare before going into work.

Animation of temperature inside of a car every ten minutes as it sits in the sun when the outside temperature is 80 degrees (General Motors and Golden Gate Weather Services).

Animation of temperature inside of a car every ten minutes as it sits in the sun when the outside temperature is 80 degrees (General Motors and Golden Gate Weather Services).

So while it seems unfathomable to many parents to forget a child in a hot car, the numbers prove that these tips from the National Safety Council and SFSU bear repeating as temperatures soar into the 90s in the Washington area.

  • Don’t leave a child alone in a vehicle.
  • Put something in the back seat as a reminder, such as a phone or purse.
  • Lock all doors after you exit a vehicle to keep kids from getting inside it.
  • If you see a child alone in a car, don’t hesitate to call 911.
  • Have daycare call if your child hasn’t been dropped off.
  • Use drive-throughs when possible.
  • Keep a stuffed animal in the carseat. When the child is put in the seat, place the animal in the front with the driver.

“Who could ever be so careless?” is a frequent refrain in comments sections and on social media about advice and media coverage on this topic.  The Post’s Gene Weingarten profiled several parents in 2009 who had been responsible for their children’s deaths. Here’s who could, in his words:

When it happens to young children, the facts are often the same: An otherwise loving and attentive parent one day gets busy, or distracted, or upset, or confused by a change in his or her daily routine, and just… forgets a child is in the car…. 

Two decades ago, this was relatively rare. But in the early 1990s, car-safety experts declared that passenger-side front airbags could kill children, and they recommended that child seats be moved to the back of the car; then, for even more safety for the very young, that the baby seats be pivoted to face the rear. If few foresaw the tragic consequence of the lessened visibility of the child . . . well, who can blame them? What kind of person forgets a baby?

The wealthy do, 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.

You can read the full Weingarten story, which won a Pulitzer Prize, here, and personal story from him on the issue here.

Below are more resources:

Printable PSA from the International Parking Institute

Jan Null’s research includes maps, annual statistics and information on state laws

National Safety Council tip sheet

Past Capital Weather Gang posts on this topic:

Children left in hot cars: a deadly combination that must stop

Meteorologist bakes inside hot car for 30 minutes (VIDEO)

Also on Capital Weather Gang

Howard University students pump up Weather Service's "Beat the Heat" campaign