The number of children who have died from heatstroke this year after being left or getting trapped in hot cars is among the highest on record.
So far in 2019, 49 children have died from vehicular heat stroke, according to the National Safety Council, a nonprofit safety group. On Monday, a 1-year-old died after she was left inside a hot Jeep for hours in Tampa, Fla., according to local police.
A record 53 children died of heatstroke last year, according to the National Safety Council. Before that, the record had been 49 deaths in 2010.
While most deaths occur during the hotter summer months, they can also happen in other seasons and with outside temperatures in the 60s, said Jan Null, a lecturer in meteorology at San Jose State University who tracks these deaths with the National Safety Council and on his website NoHeatStroke.org. More deaths could happen before the end of the year, though Mr. Null pointed out that the last death in 2018 was in September.
The growing number of hot-car deaths—an average of 38 each year for the past two decades—displays the difficultly of pinpointing their cause and finding viable solutions, advocates say.
Over the past two decades, most of these deaths occurred when a parent or caregiver unintentionally left a child in the car, according to records tracked by Mr. Null. About a quarter of them happened when a child got into a car on their own, and about 19% occurred after a caregiver knowingly left a child in the car.
“Nobody on earth wants to accept the fact that you’re capable of doing this, but it’s just how our brains work,” said Janette Fennell, president and founder of KidsAndCars.org, a child-safety advocacy group. “If you can forget your keys or your cellphone, you certainly have the capability of forgetting your child.”
The temperature inside a car can rise about 20 degrees in just 10 minutes, according to researchers, and infants and children have difficulty regulating their body temperatures, making for a dangerous combination. Heatstroke can happen when a person’s body temperature reaches 104 degrees, and it could turn lethal for children when their body temperature reaches 107 degrees.
While the U.S. has experienced record-setting heat in recent years, Mr. Null said he couldn’t specify an exact cause for the increase in child heatstroke deaths because a complex set of factors can play a role. Beyond the temperature outside or where a car is parked, psychological factors can come into play—from a person’s memory, to a change in habits or a set of distractions.
As such, “there’s not going to be one solution,” he said.
Child-safety groups have pushed public-awareness campaigns over the years, and advocated for legislation and new technology in automobiles.